Illinois homeowners urged to test for radon this winter

Illinois homeowners urged to test for radon this winter


The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has a New Year’s resolution for you that is easy to keep, inexpensive to do and will benefit the entire family. Test your home for radon this winter.

“January and February are the best months to test your home for radon, because levels of the radioactive gas tend to be at their highest,” DEP Deputy Secretary James W. Rue said. “The levels peak during this time when homes are closed tightly for the winter.”

Radon is an odorless, colorless, invisible radioactive gas that’s produced from the decay of uranium deposits found in nearly all soils. Outdoors, radon gas mixes with the air and is diluted to insignificant amounts that do not pose a health concern. Indoors, radon can get trapped inside your home and build up to significant levels.

The U.S. Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and urges all homeowners to test for radon. Testing is the only way to know for sure your family’s risk from radon.

The EPA cites radon as the #1 cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. They estimate that there are between 21,000 and 40,000 deaths a year directly attributed to radon. This places radon ahead of handguns, drunk driving and HIV as a leading cause of death in the U.S. The risks of radon contamination in both the air and water also worsen as winter approaches. This is due to the construction of more tightly sealed buildings with reduced ventilation and the use of synthetic building materials and furnishings.

According to James McDonnell, home safety expert and president of PRO-LAB, a leading international manufacturer of home safety testing kits, “It can show up in any home, office or school. You may have radon in your house even if your neighbor doesn’t, and you won’t know it without testing.”

PRO-LAB Environmental Protection Products offers homeowners their Do-it-yourself Radon Home Test Kits available at local home center hardware stores. Two kits are available, one to detect radon in water, and one to test for radon in the air.

McDonnell explains, “When uranium in the soil starts to decay, it forms a toxic gas that seeps into the air in your home, office or school. When you breathe, these radioactive particles start eating away at your lung tissue, which causes cancer and eventually death.”

McDonnell adds, “When you turn your faucet on, radon gas is also emitted as part of the aeration process. Every time you brush your teeth, wash dishes or shower, if your water originates in the ground, it can pass through uranium deposits in the soil and become contaminated. If you have a radon water problem, you need to install an activated carbon or charcoal filter. Radon is attracted to charcoal like a strong magnet, and the filter will absorb it.”

McDonnell continues, “Fireplaces also increase the risk of radon contamination in the home. The oxygen needed to keep the flames burning is sucked up through the floorboards, clearing a path for radon.”

Winter is the best season to test your home for radon gas. While radon levels can be measured any time, testing during the winter, when closed doors and windows trap the gas, will tell the maximum level to which your family is exposed.

PRO-LAB’s EPA-recommended two-detector system ensures that the charcoal remains dry. PRO-LAB’s method is the most accurate and reliable available. The patented detectors contain a silica gel desiccant that absorbs moisture, allowing detection of radon with 100 percent efficiency.

What do the test results mean? The EPA’s suggested limit is four picocuries per liter. (Picocurie is named for the scientist Madame Curie, who first discovered radon.) “If your level is above four, you cannot sell your house in some states,” McDonnell explains. The EPA offers the following steps to reduce exposure to radon:

l Test your home. It’s easy and inexpensive.

l Fix your home if your radon level is four picocuries or higher.

l Radon levels less than four pCi/L still pose a risk, and in many cases, may be reduced.

A report issued by the National Academy of Science (NAS) confirms that radon is a serious public threat. The report corroborates earlier EPA scientific conclusions and analysis for drinking water. It recognizes drinking water-related cancer deaths, primarily from lung cancer. As required by the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), EPA is also developing guidelines for state (and public water supply system) multimedia mitigation plans to be published along with proposed Maximum Containment Levels.

Currently, 37 states require radon testing prior to selling a home. More and more states will be coming on board once the EPA begins stricter enforcement. “We do express radon tests per day, primarily for the real estate industry as more and more lending institutions are requiring that in order to buy and sell a home and to get funding, there has to be a radon test. Many states mandate testing in all structures,” says McDonnell.

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