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Radon in the home poses health risk, free test kits offered to the public

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Most people do what they can to keep themselves and their families healthy and safe. We bundle up in warm clothes during cold weather, buckle seat belts, and change the smoke alarm batteries periodically.

There's a potential danger that exists in some homes that often goes undetected. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from the decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils. Outdoors, radon is diluted to low levels in the air and poses no problem. However, once inside an enclosed space, radon can accumulate to unsafe levels.

Radon can be a problem in all types of homes -- old and new, drafty and insulated homes, homes with basements, and homes without basements.

Radon causes about 21,000 deaths annually. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer after tobacco smoke, according to Brian Hanson, coordinator of the Kansas Radon Program in Extension Engineering at Kansas State University.

To call attention to the need for testing homes and reducing high levels of radon, January is designated as National Radon Action month by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Kansas Radon Program and Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) also promote January as Kansas Radon Action month.

Simple test kits can determine the radon level in a home. A reading of 4.0 pCi/L means further testing is needed and the problem needs fixed. The Extension office always has the test kits available for sale. Right now, we also have a limited supply of free test kits available, provided by the Kansas Radon Program and KDHE, in promotion of Kansas Radon Action month.

Hanson encourages the public to recognize the risk that radon poses. The risk of developing lung cancer increases as the concentration and length of exposure to radon increases. Most scientists believe children run an even greater risk from radon exposure than adults, and smokers are definitely at greater risk than nonsmokers. Smokers have eight times the risk from radon as non-smokers. Persons with a family history of cancer have a greater risk from radon exposure.

Hanson explains that fixing the problem of a high level of radon in a home is relatively easy and every home can be brought down to a safe level. A vent pipe system and fan, which pulls radon from beneath the house and vents it to the outside, is typically used. Average cost is about $1200 to $1400, but can range from $800 to $2500. A list of qualified contractors can be found at the state radon office website at www.kansasradonprogram.org.

For guidance and assistance for fixing your home's radon problem yourself, contact the state radon office.

The first step to reducing the risks associated with radon is testing your home. Testing is easy and should only take a few minutes of your time. While the supply lasts, free test kits can be obtained from the Bourbon County Extension office, first floor of the courthouse. There is a limit of one per family. The kits come with easy-to-follow instructions, must be left in place for a minimum of three days, and are then mailed to the company in the pre-paid envelope. Anyone who has not had their home tested for radon is encouraged to stop by the Extension office and ask for a kit. The Kansas Radon Program at www.kansasradonprogram.org also has much useful information about radon risks, testing and fixing high levels of radon.

Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Bourbon County. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or aludlum@ksu.edu.

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Ann Ludlum
FCS Agent, Southwind District
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Southwind District -- Fort Scott office. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or aludlum@ksu.edu.