Radon tests are a good idea
By Jeanne Millsap Correspondent January 22, 2013 1:36PM
A typical radon gas dector kit for home or business use. | photo courtesy of AccuStar Labs
Updated: February 24, 2013 6:17AM
We are right in the middle of the best time of year to test for a hidden danger in our homes. With windows closed during these frigid months of winter, it’s the perfect time to test for radon, the colorless, odorless radioactive, cancer-causing gas.
With Grundy and Kendall counties in Radon Zone 1 — the highest potential — and Will and Kankakee counties in Zone 2 — of moderate potential — health experts say we all should be testing.
“Testing for radon is certainly a very good idea,” said Mike Boyle, Grundy County Health Department director of environmental health. “Radon is a Class A carcinogen. Exposure to radon or its decay products can start lung cancer at a single-cell level. It is serious.”
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates exposure to radon contributes to 20,000 lung cancer deaths every year. Smoking, radon and secondhand smoke are the leading causes of lung cancer, and among non-smokers, radon is the No. 1 cause.
There is good news. Homeowners can test their air for radon easily and relatively cheaply.
The Grundy County Health Department has kits for $10 that include the price of analysis. The Will County Health Department has exhausted its supply for 2012, but spokesman Vic Reato said more may come in early this year.
Many hardware stores sell them, as do online retailers. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency has web guidelines for radon testing, as well as a list of laboratories that carry the kits and perform the analyses at www.state.il.us/iema.
“This time of year is a beautiful time to do the testing,” Boyle said. “And if your levels are high, it can be relatively easily remediated.”
Radon gas comes from the natural breakdown of uranium, naturally present in rocks, soil and water in some areas. It can seep up from the ground and get in the air in homes and is even present outdoors. In outside air, radon concentration is usually around 0.4 pCi/L, or picocuries per liter of air. Indoor radon levels average 1.3 pCi/L, and in Will County, the average indoor radon level is 5.5 pCi/L. According to the EPA, measures should be taken to reduce radon levels if they are at or above 4 pCi/L.
There are two types of radon testing kits — one is a short-term test (kept in home for two to 90 days), and the other a long-term one (more than 90 days). Each one has to be thoughtfully placed, though, Boyle said. The kits must be set 2 to 6 feet off the floor; away from outside walls and vents, windows, and doors; and not too close to any heat sources.
Radon test kits must be placed in a calm interior air space on the first or second floor of a building. It’s recommended schools be tested, as well as homes, or any buildings up to the third floor.
Boyle said remediation can be done by creating a venting system that will draw the gas from the basement or crawl space into PVC piping that goes up through the house, then vented outside above the roof line. A fan in the attic will create a vacuum that will draw the gas up, he said.
Licensed radon mitigation professional Richard Whisler of Accurate Radon in West Chicago lowers the radon levels in houses and other buildings for a living. It’s a full-time job around here, he said, especially near the Interstate 80 corridor where the levels can be high.
“High concentrations are very common around there,” he said. “It’s a gift to us from the last ice age.”
Whisler said he has seen values in the Will County area range from acceptable levels to 189 pCi/L, which was a state record at the time.
“It’s highly variable,” he said of levels, “even within one neighborhood.”
Whisler recommends houses be tested every two years, as the soil conditions may change, and with that, so do radon levels in the houses above.