ESCANABA - January is National Radon Action Month, yet many may not know the dangers of this nearly undetectable gas.
Radon gas occurs naturally from the breakdown of the radioactive element uranium, which is found in rocks, soil, and even groundwater. When radon gas is inhaled, the carcinogenic, radioactive particles can become trapped in the lungs.
"It's a gas so it's mobile. It's something that can get inside our homes," said Lori Schultz, environmental health specialist at Public Health Delta & Menominee Counties.
Holly Richer | Daily Press
Lori Schultz, an environmental health specialist at Public Health, Delta and Menominee Counties, shows a radon test kit that is available at the office.
When radon gas is released through the soil it can enter homes through cracks in solid floors or walls, construction joints, gaps around service pipes, and through well water.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Surgeon General's office estimate the gas is responsible for more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths annually. Radon is also considered to be the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The only thing it causes is lung cancer," said Schultz who noted coughing and other respiratory symptoms are not caused by the radon itself but may be caused once cancer is present.
Without proper testing it may be impossible to determine if radon levels in a home are elevated because the gas is odorless, tasteless, and invisible.
PHDM has tests available for purchase at the reduced rate of $16. Radon test kits are also available at the Luce-Mackinac-Alger-Schoolcraft District Health Department.
"It's just a matter of opening the kit and letting the air circulate back and forth," said Schultz. The tests are then mailed to a facility which evaluates the amount of radon present.
Short term tests only need to be in the home for 3 to 7 days before being sent in to be read. Once the test is read, homeowners can visit a website to see their results or can wait to receive a their results in the mail.
"We have short term tests, and if people have high readings we have long term tests as well," said Schultz. Long term tests can indicate the average radon level over a greater period.
Nationwide the EPA estimates that nearly one out of every 15 homes has radon levels above 4.0 picocuries per liter of air. Records of test kits sold by PHDM indicate that about 1 in eight homes in Delta County have elevated levels. Menominee County has a slightly higher rate of elevated radon levels.
"We've seen results in our county (Delta) in the mid 30s ... There's a hot spot in Republic where you get results in the 100s," said Schultz.
When a radon test shows the radon level is elevated, steps need to be taken to reduce the levels of the gas trapped inside homes to below 2.0 pCi/L.
Updating an existing home to vent out radon gas typically costs between $700 and $1,500 in the state of Michigan. Usually this involves creating a small hole in the basement floor and using a 4-inch wide pipe to vent the gas out of the ground before it enters the home.
"You'd want to capture that soil gas before it enters your home," said Schultz.
For more information or to purchase a radon test kit contact Environmental Health at Public Health Delta Menominee Counties at 786-9692.