MARQUETTE - The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that January is National Radon Action Month.
The EPA suggests that all homeowners get their homes tested for radon, an odorless, tasteless, colorless gas that seeps into the home through cracks in the foundation and builds up when it can't escape. One in 15 American homes has high levels of radon.
"We usually get an uptick of people coming in in January because it is National Radon Awareness Month," Jennifer Farnworth, environmental sanitarian for the environmental health division of the Marquette County Health Department, said. "We tell them it is a natural occurring radioactive gas produced by the decay of uranium."
U.S. Radon chart
High radon levels in the home increase a person's risk of lung cancer. Radon is the number one-leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers and the second-leading cause of cancer in smokers. Radon has no warning symptoms. It does not cause headaches, nausea or fatigue. The only known health effect is an increased risk of lung cancer.
When an individual breathes in radon, the particles break down in the lungs. As the particles break down, they explode and its these explosions that will cause damage to the lung tissue over time, which could cause lung cancer.
There are 21,000 lung cancer deaths attributed to radon each year. A simple test can check a home for radon and if high levels are found, steps can be taken to bring the levels down.
"We need to put the house in closed-house conditions. Then, we have special units that we put in the lowest inhabitable level," Kerry Noble, owner of Home Evaluation Services of Marquette, said. "The detectors have to sit for 48 hours and we measure each one and then average it out."
There are two kinds of tests that can check a home for radon: A short-term test that lasts from 48 hours to 90 days, depending on the kind of test used, and long-term tests that lasts for more than 90 days. A long-term test is better than a short-term test to tell what a homes year round average radon level is, experts say.
Tests can be purchased at the Marquette County Health Department's Environmental Health Division for $12. Radon tests and radon reduction systems can also be done by Home Evaluation Services in Harvey.
"The tests are measuring the radioactive decay of uranium," Farnworth said. "It is a good idea to test your home because you can't taste or smell it and proximity isn't good enough because if your neighbor's house has a low level doesn't mean you will."
Radon is measured in picocuries per liter of air. The EPA suggests that homes with a radon level of 4 pCi/L or higher should work to lower their levels to decrease their risk of lung cancer.
The average home has an estimated radon level at 1.3 pCi/L while outside air has a level of 0.4 pCi/L. While it is impossible to bring a home's radon level to zero it can be lowered to an acceptable level to decrease the risk of lung cancer.
"Radon reduction systems depend on the house but the most common is an Active Sub-slab Depressurization," Noble said. "We drill holes in the basement floor sucking the radon through there and out through a fan on the roof."
Radon reduction systems work and they are not too costly. Homes should be tested for radon every two to three years. Home sellers should have their homes tested so prospective buyers will know the home's level.
Buyers should ask to see a home's radon test or ask for one to be done with the home sale to see if a radon reduction system should be put in.
"When we do home inspections for people outside the area they almost always ask for Radon, but local people don't ask for it that much," Noble said. "We did 150 radon tests in Marquette County last year and 18.2 percent were elevated."
Sylvia Stevens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240.