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January 15, 2014

Get a free or cheap test kit during Radon Action Month

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

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Get a free or cheap test kit during Radon Action Month
Radon test kits are half price for Oakland County residents and free of charge for Macomb County residents during January, which the United States Environmental Protection Agency designates as National Radon Action Month.

METRO DETROIT — The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one out of every 15 homes in the country has elevated radon levels.

Radon, a colorless and odorless radioactive gas, is also the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the country, with between 7,000 and 30,000 lung cancer deaths being attributed each year to long-term radon exposure.

So during January, when homeowners keep their windows and doors shut tight with the furnace running, radon has a higher chance of accumulating to an unhealthy level. That is why the EPA has designated the month as National Radon Action Month and counties across the country are offering half-price radon test kits to residents.

The Oakland County Health Division is among them, offering test kits for $5 to residents, down from the usual price of $10. The Macomb County Public Health Department, however, offers test kits free of charge to all residents year-round.

“We have been recommending homeowners to test for years, and we are fortunate in Macomb County that we don’t see a large number of radon problems, but other parts of the country do,” said Cole Shoemaker, supervisor with the Macomb County Public Health Department. “We want residents to test to see if there are elevated radon levels and take action if there is, so we give away the do-it-yourself test kits, because it is a very simple process to conduct the test.”

Radon is formed during the breakdown of uranium, which is found in nearly all soils and rocks. The gas then seeps into the house through gaps or cracks in the foundation floor, walls, sump pits or drains.

In an enclosed space, the radon accumulates, which is when it is the most harmful to the health of the occupants.

Shoemaker said only about 5 or 10 percent of homes in Macomb County have elevated radon levels, but that doesn’t mean residents shouldn’t test.

“While there are places with higher incident levels, there is no place that doesn’t have a problem,” he said. “It is not a good idea to go by your neighbor’s results, because a radon problem is not predictive and can change from one house to the next.”

Tony Drautz, administrator for environmental health at the Oakland County Health Division, said unlike other indoor pollutants, radon doesn’t cause headaches, nausea or rashes. Lung cancer is the only health risk associated with the gas.

“Radon causes damage to the cells that leads to lung cancer, and it is the leading cause of the disease in nonsmokers,” Drautz said. “It can be especially problematic for people with respiratory problems and children, because their lungs are still developing. That is why it is so important to get tested.”

The test kits usually are set up in the basement, Drautz said, and tests the levels. The kit is then sent in to be read, and residents are then made aware of the results.

The reason radon problems are more relevant in the winter months, he said, is because there is no ventilation like in other times of the year.

“In the summer, you have the windows open or fans blowing, but in the winter, everything is closed up tight,” Drautz said. “When radon is outside, it is diluted so levels are harmless. Michigan does have high areas of radon levels, and it could be in the home right next door and you don’t get hit, so it is important to periodically test your home.”

Shoemaker said testing for radon is nothing to lose sleep over, as it is long-term exposure that makes the gas dangerous. However, that shouldn’t deter people from testing every year.

If radon levels are found to be high in a home, Shoemaker said, first, they would usually do a confirmation test to ensure the levels are double-checked. Then, if it is confirmed, a contractor is brought in to help fix the problem.

A repair usually costs between $1,200 and $1,500, depending on the home.

“Part of fixing the problem is sealing the cracks and joints, and then they bring in a suction system,” Shoemaker said. “Essentially, a pipe goes through the basement floor and into the soil, and then an exhaust fan diverts the gas. It is installed, and the only upkeep is to make sure the fan is functioning.”

Macomb County residents can pick up test kits at the Central Health Center, 43525 Elizabeth Road, in Mount Clemens, or at the Southwest Health Center, 27690 Van Dyke, in Warren. Oakland County residents can purchase test kits at the North Oakland Health Center, 1200 N. Telegraph, Building 34E, in Pontiac, or at the South Oakland Health Center, 27725 Greenfield Road, in Southfield.

For more information on National Radon Action Month, visit www.radonmonth.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Joshua Gordon at jgordon@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1077.