Radon’s invisibility makes it hard to detect, Brian Hanson said, making it silent, but deadly. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas generated in all soils because of decaying uranium, Hanson, coordinator for the Kansas Radon Program at Kansas State University, said.
“Being a gas, [radon] wants to move from the highest concentration in soil to the lowest, which is outdoor,” Hanson said. “It comes up under foundations and has the opportunity to come in and concentrate in an indoor environment in much higher indoor values than you will ever see in the outdoor air.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has dubbed January as Radon Action Month to bring awareness to the dangers of high radon exposure and radon being present in almost all homes, Hanson said.
“We do expect [radon levels] to be their highest in houses in winter months because we have our houses closed as tight as possible and running furnaces and are heating houses,” he said. “These conditions will maximize radon values in houses.”
NO HOME IS SAFE
Any house is susceptible to having radon gas in it, Hanson said, even those homes without basements, which is where the highest levels of radon tend to be found.
“The age of the house is not indicative of radon values, and foundation type isn’t either,” he said. “Radon levels are expected to be the highest with ground contact level. Slab-on-ground homes will have highest levels [of radon] on the first floor — wherever [the house] comes into contact with the ground.”
According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the average indoor radon levels in Franklin County as determined by radon tests from Air Chek, Inc., were 5 pCi/L — higher than the EPA’s standards.
Though uranium decay occurs in soil throughout the U.S., Kansas’ formation may put the state at risk for higher levels of radon, Aimee Rosenow said.
“The geology of Kansas — the way our state was formed does lend itself to radon levels in every county,” Rosenow, public health information officer for KDHE, said. “[Radon is] the breakdown of uranium in our soil and it’s usually seen in rockier types of soils, and again, the way our state formed, we definitely have those areas in our state.”
The best way to find out if a home or office is in compliance with the EPA’s standards is to get a radon test kit, Hanson said. For the month of January, the Franklin County Healthy Department, 1418 S. Main St., Suite 1, Ottawa, is offering test kits for free, and are available year-round for purchase at the Kansas State Frontier Extension Office, 1418 S. Main St., Suite 2, Ottawa.
“You expose [the radon test kit] to air in the home [for a period of] three to seven days, following instructions in an appropriate room in your home, then send the test kit back to the manufacturer in North Carolina who will send you the results,” Hanson said. “For home owners, if they get the kit and the first test comes back with elevated levels, we recommend a confirmatory test to make sure the number is what we think it is.”
If radon levels continue to be elevated, home owners should look into investing in radon mitigation systems, Hanson said.
According to the EPA’s website, the EPA generally recommends radon mitigation methods which prevent the entry of radon. Soil suction prevents radon from entering the home by drawing the radon from below the home and venting it through a pipe, or pipes, to the air above the home where it is quickly diluted.
If a home has never been tested for radon, chances are you won’t show any symptoms due to long-term exposure until it is too late, Hanson said. Long-term radon exposure can lead to lung cancer with symptoms not being shown until lung cancer likely already has developed.
“Radon, chemically speaking, does not cause or trigger direct symptomolgy,” he said. “It’s not an allergen. It’s not an asthmatic. Radon present in a house is just not doing much of anything at all.”
Radon is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer and the second cause of lung cancer among people who smoke, Hanson said, making it important to prevent exposure to radon before it can do damage to the lungs.
“Lung cancer risk comes from long-term, increased exposure associated with radon,” he said. “Increased exposure increases the risk of genetic damage to lung tissues that could lead to the onset of tumor formation which is the beginning of lung cancer and often non-symptomatic until it reaches stage 2 or 3 and developing tumors occlude bronchial path tubes.”
In Kansas there are 200 radon-related deaths each year because of lung cancer, Rosenow said, and the risk gets even higher for those who smoke.
“In smokers, they’re already at risk for lung cancer,” Rosenow said. “You add another level of risk to that so they’re likelihood for developing [cancer] does go up significantly.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website said that seven out of 1,000 people who never smoked and were exposed to high levels are radon will die of lung cancer; 20 out of 1,000 people who smoked and were exposed to average levels are radon will die of lung cancer; and 62 of out 1,000 people who smoked and were exposed to high levels of radon will die of lung cancer.
“You go from seven out of 1,000 who have never smoked to 62 out of 1,000 who smoked and were exposed to radon — that is a big difference,” Rosenow said. “When we’re talking about radon and the possibility of developing lung cancer from radon, we’re also putting the message out there that if you currently smoke, your risk goes up so we’re encouraging people to take some steps to stop smoking.”
The cost for radon mitigation in an average home in Kansas can run anywhere between $800 and $1,200, Rosenow said, but that cost is a lot cheaper than any medical bill.
“If you consider the cost of lung cancer, then it’s definitely cost effective to install mitigation systems if a home does have high levels of radon,” she said. “The only way to know [if a person has been exposed to radon] is to test your home because you can’t see it, can’t taste it — it’s invisible. The only way to know ... is to test your home.”