MANHATTAN, Kan. – Radon, a naturally occurring element produced from radioactive decay in the soil is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas, and the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. It’s the second leading cause of lung cancer in the general population.
Radon surveys have shown that 6 percent of U.S. homes have average concentrations above levels that would be considered safe. However, a Kansas survey indicated that one in four homes – about 25 percent – in the state were above safe levels, said Bruce Snead, director of engineering extension at Kansas State University.
“Anyone can be vulnerable,” said Snead, who added that the cancer-causing gas, which can seep from the soil beneath the foundation through cracks or joints (in the foundation) into a home, is typically easy to detect and mitigate at a moderate cost.
Detection is relatively simple, said Snead, who recommends starting with a home radon detector, which, in its simplest form, can be purchased from many K-State Research and Extension offices in the state (for between $5 and $10), at home and hardware stores, and on the internet, usually for $25 or less.
“A $5 to $25 test may be all that it takes to spare you or a loved one from lung cancer,” he said.
“Testing is important, because it’s the only sure way to tell how much of the gas is present,” he said, adding that in Kansas, since 1987, 43 percent (31,539) of the 73,959 test results available had levels above the recommended ceiling of 4.0 pCi/L (Pico Curies per liter of air, is the unit of measurement) .
Tests in your home should be conducted in the lowest lived-in level, in a bedroom, living room or family room and about 20 to 24 inches above the floor for two to five days. The goal is to measure the potential for elevated concentrations which come from the soil beneath the home’s foundation.
Testing in a kitchen or bathrooms, where more humid air and ventilation are typically occurring, is not recommended. Following test directions is a must, Snead said.
If your initial test shows a reading of 4 pCi/L or higher, take a follow-up test. Consider fixing your home if the average of your first and second test is 4 pCi/L or higher. If your initial result is low, further testing is advised if living patterns change and you begin occupying a lower level, or a significant change occurs in the foundation, heating or cooling systems, or insulation or air sealing features. Hiring a professional contractor to fix your home is recommended.
Lists of Kansas radon measurement and mitigation contractors who participate in one of two national radon proficiency programs are available at http://www.kansasradonprogram.org/contractors . Since 2011, all professional radon measurement and mitigation technicians and laboratories providing services in Kansas are required to have a state certification through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
In Kansas, since July 1, 2009, residential real estate contracts must contain a paragraph recommending radon testing in real estate transactions and disclosure of test results.
There are, however, currently no laws requiring such tests or mitigation of high levels of radon, if found, he said.
The cities of Manhattan, Topeka, Lawrence, Salina, and Junction City have passed ordinances requiring the use of radon-resistant building techniques in the construction of new single- and two-family homes, Snead said.
More information about radon is available through the Kansas Radon Program at K-State Research and Extension offices throughout the state, online: http://www.kansasradonprogram.org and by calling: 1-800-693-5343.
Radon programs at Kansas State University are supported by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency, and serve as a state and national resource on radon awareness, testing, and mitigation.