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K-State Today

January 5, 2017

Health risks due to radon exposure are preventable

Submitted by Brian Hanson

Radon is a naturally occurring element produced from radioactive decay in the soil. It is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas, and cited as the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, and 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 the recommended maximum level. However, a Kansas survey demonstrated that one in four homes were high, 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 beginning 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.

"Testing is important, because it's the only sure way to tell how much of the gas is present," he said, explaining that, in Kansas, since 1987, 41 percent, or 46,000 homes of the 112,000 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 the home should be conducted in the lowest lived-in level in a bedroom, living room or family room, 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 the initial result is 4 pCi/L or higher, a follow-up test is recommended. 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.

In Kansas, since July 1, 2009, residential real estate contracts must contain a specific 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, Snead said.

Since July 1, 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. Lists of these contractors are available online.

The cities of Manhattan, Topeka, Lawrence, Salina and Junction City also have passed ordinances requiring the use of radon-resistant building techniques in the construction of new single- and two-family homes, Snead said.

Radon awareness is recommended for everyone, said Snead, who noted that a $5 to $25 test may be all that it takes to spare you or a loved one from lung cancer.

More information about radon is available via the Kansas Radon Program at K-State Research and Extension offices throughout the state, online 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.

For more information, contact Snead at 785-532-6026 or bsnead@k-state.edu