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January 16, 2013

Testing, testing — Radon tests are vital to a safe, healthy home

By Brad D. Bates
C & G Staff Writer

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Radon test kits are administered by placing a receiver item in a building’s basement or lowest level for several days before the item is sent to a laboratory for evaluation. Along with being available for purchase at home improvement stores, test kits are available from Macomb and Oakland county health officials.

Radon gas poisoning may sound like science fiction, but the very real consequences of having high levels of the gas in your home can include lung cancer.

To help raise awareness about the nation’s second-leading cause of lung-cancer deaths, the Environmental Protection Agency annually declares January as Radon Awareness Month, and Macomb and Oakland counties are doing their part to help residents test their homes and businesses.

“Radon is a gas that is found in all soils and, depending on the geology of the area and construction of the home, it can enter and accumulate to levels much higher than the outdoor air,” said Macomb County Health Department supervisor Cole Shoemaker.

“The federal government estimates 14,000 to 30,000 lung-cancer deaths per year are attributed to radon exposure, and lung cancer is a pretty serious disease with a grim outcome,” Shoemaker added. “There are many ways to test (for radon), and it’s a simple test you perform in your home.”

Along with discovering health risks, testing is encouraged because of the effect radon can have on a home’s value.

“If you go to sell your home and haven’t tested, that is going to come up and likely buyers want it done before they buy,” Shoemaker said. “And if you have (a positive test) come up during that sale, it can really muddy up the process. It’s just wise to save some headaches.”

Testing for radon is generally done in two ways.

The most common and least expensive way involves passive tests consisting of a receiver item — sometimes a carbon, Teflon or plastic trap — that attracts any radon particles in the air.

After the receiver has been left in a building — preferably its basement or lowest
floor and away from open windows and doors — for two to three days, it is sent to a
laboratory for testing.

The other method is active testing, which features an electronic monitor that continually checks the air for radon ions.

“Radon levels fluctuate, but they tend to be the worst during winter,” Shoemaker said. “You want testing done under a worst-case scenario, so you test in the winter, when a house is shut and the heater is on. If it’s safe then, you can assume it’s safe year-round.”

Shoemaker suggested that the best times to test occur between December and February.

Because radon is found in all soil types, and leaks largely are related to an individual home’s specific construction, it is necessary for all homes to be tested.

“One misconception is, ‘My neighbor tested and was fine,’” Shoemaker said. “But you can’t go by that because it does vary from lot to lot. You really do need to test every building.”

If radon is detected, leaks can be fixed with procedures such as increased ventilation along the building’s foundation.

“They can get a hold of us (Macomb County Health Department) if they are concerned about (test) results, and we can get them in touch with contractors to help them through the process,” Shoemaker said.

“If you do have elevated levels, there are people that can come out and fix it, from $1,200 to $1,500. It’s easily evaluated, and there’s a reasonable fix for it.”

To make testing easier, Macomb County offers free kits to residents, which can be picked up at either of the county’s Health Department offices at 43525 Elizabeth Road in Mount Clemens or 27690 Van Dyke Ave. in Warren.

“Macomb County, generally, is not a hot spot in regard to radon,” Shoemaker said.
“We see maybe 5 percent of homes with elevated levels, which is as good as it gets because radon is everywhere. And what we do see isn’t off-the-scale elevated, which is nice, also.

“There are some areas where you tend to see more,” Shoemaker added. “In Macomb County, you’re a little more likely to run in to a problem north of Hall Road than south, but there are no areas completely immune to it.”

Throughout January, Oakland County is offering a 50 percent discount on kits at county Health Division offices at 1200 North Telegraph Road in Pontiac or at 27725 Greenfield Road in Southfield.

“It’s open to anyone that wants to come in,” Oakland County Environmental Health Services Administrator Tony Drautz said of the kits, which cost $5 after the 50 percent discount. “We do this every January, and we do this in October for Radon Action Week.”

Drautz said programs such as Radon Awareness Month and the initiatives by local governments have raised awareness.

But he said the public is still under-informed of the dangers and prevalence of radon, which is shown in the low percentage of homes that are tested.

“There should be more taking notice and testing,” Drautz said. “It’s just going to protect them. We do see an increase (of homes tested), but compared to the number of homes in Oakland County, it is not a large percentage.

“More people could definitely test their homes and try to remediate the risks and health hazards,” Drautz said.

For more information on radon and radon testing, visit www.oakgov.com/health, www.macombcountymi.gov/public health or www.radonmonth.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brad D. Bates at bbates@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1029.