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 smoke alarm batteries periodically.
One potential danger which is often overlooked is the exposure to radon in homes.
Radon is a natural, tasteless, odorless, colorless, radioactive gas produced from the decay of uranium found in nearly all soils. Outdoors, radon is diluted to low levels in the air and poses no problem. However, once it comes into an enclosed space through cracks in floors, walls or foundations, radon can accumulate to unsafe levels. Radon can also enter through floor drains, sump pumps, or cracks or pores in hollow-block walls.
Radon can be a problem in all types of homes -- old and new, drafty and insulated homes, homes with basements and homes without basements. A neighbor's level of radon cannot substitute for testing your own home.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking and the leading cause among people who have never smoked. The risk of developing lung cancer increases as the concentration and length of exposure to radon increases. Because the effects of being exposed to radon accumulate over time, it may take many years for disease to appear. Many scientists believe children may run an even greater risk from radon exposure than adults, and smokers are definitely at greater risk than nonsmokers.
To call attention to the need for testing homes and reducing high levels of radon, the Kansas Radon Program and Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) promote January as Kansas Radon Action month.
Simple test kits can determine the radon level in a home. No level of radon is considered absolutely safe, so the level in a home should be reduced as much as reasonably possible. A reading of 4.0 pCi/L means further testing is needed and the problem needs to be fixed. Southwind District Extension offices have the test kits available for purchase for $6 each. Local hardware and builders' supply stores often have kits for sale. Test kits come with easy-to-follow instructions for use. Testing will not disrupt your daily routine. Winter is a good time to test while doors and windows are kept closed. Once the test is completed, it can be mailed in the pre-paid mailer to the lab for analysis to determine the radon level.
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. Most homes can be fixed for $800 to $2,000. Kansas law requires all professional radon contractors operating in Kansas to obtain certification from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. A list of those certified contractors is available at www.kansasradonprogram.org, or from the Kansas Radon Program at (800) 693-5343. Do-it-yourself instructions for homeowners who want to do the work on their own home are also on the Kansas Radon Program website.
Contact me at (620) 223-3720 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about radon or other health and wellness issues. And make sure you've had your home's radon level tested. It's easy, it's inexpensive and it could save lives.
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 email@example.com.