January is National Radon Action Month. Exposure to radon gas is the nation’s leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, and the second leading cause of lung cancer among smokers.
Radon is an odorless radioactive gas that is naturally present in the ground. Radon is not an irritant to the eyes or nose, nor is it an allergen. The only risk from radon in air is lung cancer, after many years of breathing it.
“It is important that people test their home for radon,” said Charlotte Ahrens, a public health nurse with the Oneida County Health Department. “The best time to test your home is during the winter months when doors and windows are not open.” State statistics indicate that between 5 and 10 percent of the homes in Wisconsin have elevated airborne concentrations in significantly-occupied spaces.
In 2013, approximately 100 radon kits were distributed by the Oneida County Health Department. Approximately 28 percent of tests came back with elevated levels of radon. The only way to know the radon level in a house is to measure it. Radon concentrations can be measured with simple, inexpensive test kits. These are available to consumers at the Oneida County Health Department for $3 during the month of January and February.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Surgeon General have summarized the radon risk based on estimates that radon causes about 3,000 lung cancer deaths per year among people who have never smoked. (National Academy of Sciences report titled Health Effects of Exposure to Radon, BEIR VI)
Radon can be controlled in any house. More than 60 radon mitigation contractors in Wisconsin are nationally certified to install a radon control system. If an elevated level of radon is found in your home, correcting the problem usually costs around $1,500.
Comprehensive radon information for Wisconsin is available at www.lowradon.org. Experts in local public health agencies may be reached toll-free statewide by dialing 1-888 LOW-RADON (1-888-569-7236).