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Radon, a silent killer in homes

Bob Dailey, an assistant tech with Radon Solutions, shakes brick debris from his drill Wednesday as he works his way through the brick to run a pipe into the basement, part of the process of mitigating the radon in a Rockford home.
Bob Dailey, an assistant tech with Radon Solutions, shakes brick debris from his drill Wednesday as he works his way through the brick to run a pipe into the basement, part of the process of mitigating the radon in a Rockford home.

DeKALB – Many homeowners take precautions to protect themselves. They lock their doors at night, turn off and unplug appliances and regularly test their smoke detectors.

Radon isn’t something many homeowners consider a danger in their homes, but it could be harming them the most.

Radon is a colorless, odorless naturally occurring gas found in uranium in soil. The gas often seeps through cracks in a house’s foundation or other areas exposed to soil. The health risks associated with radon are not immediate but rather a result of continuous exposure over a long period of time.

Kenneth Malone, owner and operator of All-Home Inspection Services based in Sycamore, said radon can be a serious threat.

“You don’t know if you’re affected by it,” he said. “That’s the problem.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more people die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer, with more than 20,000 deaths a year attributed to radon exposure in the U.S. The surgeon general also cites radon as the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the nation.

Malone said he tests radon levels in about only two or three houses a month. But he said it’s an important step homeowners, especially new homeowners, need to take in protecting themselves.

“You need to test your home and get it to the lowest level you can,” he said.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency reported in January that about 41 percent of more than 118,000 homes across the state had radon levels exceeding the recommended level of 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Malone said finding homes with levels above this amount is common.

“I would say that 55 to 60 percent of the houses I do are above the 4 pCi/L that the EPA recommends,” he said.

When a house’s radon levels are above the recommended 4 pCi/L, Malone said the homeowner should call a radon mitigation professional.

Jennifer Schuman, co-owner of Heritage Radon Mitigation Services in St. Charles, said her radon mitigation company serves several counties in Illinois, including DeKalb County.

Schuman said the process of radon mitigation in homes isn’t as complex as it sounds.

“Basically, what you attempt to do is capture the radon before it even enters into the home,” she said.

Schuman said they install a ventilation system that draws from the foundation of the house to keep radon from entering.

Because radon is a naturally occurring element, Schuman said it’s impossible to eliminate completely in a home. But she said they can get levels to match the safer outdoor radon levels, which are about 0.2 to 0.7 pCi/L. She said the average cost of a standard mitigation system is about $1,200.

Schuman said that since radon cannot be prevented from entering the home, the best course of action homeowners can take is to test their home regularly.

Malone said the EPA recommends homeowners test radon levels at least every two years, either through professional services or self-testing kits, which range in price from $7 to $30.

“I’ve found them to be very accurate if you do it right,” he said.

If homeowners do decide to conduct their own testing, Malone said they need to follow the directions precisely or risk inaccurate readings.

Whether hiring a professional or testing for radon themselves, both Malone and Schuman said it’s important for homeowners to stay on top of the issue.

“If you can do anything possible to reduce your risk, that’s the way to go,” said Malone. “Why put yourself at risk when you can do something about it?”

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