State officials urge testing for radon

01/04/2014 10:56 AM

01/04/2014 10:56 AM

It’s silent, it’s odorless and it can seep into your home through the floor and walls.

It’s radon, and it significantly increases a person’s chances of developing lung cancer, said Tom Langer, director of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Bureau of Environmental Health. During the winter months, the risk is multiplied, he said.

“In the winter, our houses are closed up, and we’re running furnaces all the time,” Langer said. “Whenever we have our houses buttoned up like that, it’s an issue.”

Gov. Sam Brownback recently declared January as Kansas Radon Action Month, and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is distributing free radon testing kits throughout the month.

Annually, 21,000 people die from lung cancer brought on by radon exposure, said Bruce Snead, director of Engineering Extension at Kansas State University.

Radon gas is formed when underground uranium deposits begin to decay. The gas seeps to the surface through cracks in the soil, waterways and other means.

If released into the open air, it mixes in with other gases and is harmless, Langer said. However, when it gets pent up inside a building, it can accumulate to dangerous levels, he said.

“Radon is everywhere,” Snead said. “The only way to know is to test. We’re concerned about it building up indoors.”

“If there are cracks in the foundation, if the house settles, those always create risks,” Langer said. “As a carcinogen, it is something very much to be aware of.”

The entire state of Kansas is located above deposits of prehistoric uranium, which will eventually decompose into radon gas, Langer said. This leaves the majority of the state at an elevated risk of accumulating radon in homes, he said.

On average in Kansas, one home in four is likely to have an elevated radon risk, Snead said.

Homeowners can test their residences with the free kits distributed this month. But if the resulting levels are concerning, Langer and Snead both said to check with a local radon mitigation expert before taking action.

“If you have a high result, rather than panic it’s always prudent to verify,” Langer said. “We can then formulate a better solution.”

Snead said radon mitigation systems can be installed by a certified professional for $900 to $1,500, depending on the location and the structure of the building.

“It’s preventive medicine,” Langer said. “It costs very little compared to the cost of human tragedy radon can cause.”

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