Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that results from the breakdown of uranium in the ground. This odorless, tasteless gas can enter your home through cracks in the foundation, sump pumps, drain tile, floor-wall joints, exposed soil in unfinished basements, and well water. Before cooler weather brings you indoors more, you may want to test your U.P. home for unsafe levels of radon. Let’s explore why.
Radon Health Risks
Radon doesn’t pose a significant risk outdoors because it quickly disperses into the atmosphere. The real threat arises when radon gets stuck inside a tightly sealed home, causing an unsafe gas accumulation. Radon is only implicated in one adverse health effect, but it’s a biggie-the EPA reports that radon gas is estimated to cause roughly 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S. alone. How Common is Radon in the Upper Peninsula? Radon can be present in any type of shelter, home, or structure. In general, the Upper Peninsula is at medium to low risk for radon. But that doesn’t mean your home couldn’t have high radon levels. Some areas of the U.P. are at a higher risk for radon exposure than others.
Radon exposure by county in the U.P. according to the state of Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy:
1-9% of homes tested exceeded safe radon levels in Baraga, Keweenaw, Ontonagon, Luce, and Schoolcraft County.
10-24% of homes tested exceeded safe radon levels in Alger, Chippewa, Delta, Gogebic, Houghton, Marquette, Mackinac, and Menominee County.
25% or more homes tested exceeded safe radon levels in Iron and Dickinson County.
Radon is like an underwater spring – it covers a wide area but only exits the ground in a few key spots. Because of this, you can’t depend on test results from other homes in your neighborhood to determine what your home’s radon levels are.
Signs and Symptoms of Radon Exposure
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Frequent bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia
- Loss of appetite
- Persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
If you are currently experiencing any of these symptoms, be sure to schedule an appointment with your health care provider right away. However, there’s usually a significant delay (often years) between exposure and signs of illness, so it’s wise to be diligent in monitoring for signs.
How to Test for Radon
When it comes to testing for radon in your home, you have two options. The first is to purchase an at-home test kit. While a home radon monitoring device is not as accurate or precise as professional radon testing, it’s an excellent starting point. The second option is to hire a local home inspector to conduct a radon test. Professional testing typically involves a 48-hour sampling period during which the equipment is left in your home for monitoring.
If a radon test reveals unacceptable levels of radon in your home, standard procedure is to confirm these findings using different equipment. Radon levels can also fluctuate significantly with the seasons. For these reasons, I often encourage people to invest in home monitoring equipment first. Then, if you notice a pattern of high radon readings, you can call in a professional for confirmation.
Ultimately, the way you choose to test for radon is up to you. Whether you choose to hire a professional or use an at-home test kit, the important thing is that you’re testing one way or another.
What Should You Do If You Find Radon in Your Home?
If you find unsafe radon levels in your home, try implementing the following mitigation strategies:
- Increase the ventilation throughout your home.
- Invest in a radon-reduction system (these systems can reduce radon levels by up to 99%).
- Caulk and seal foundation cracks and openings.
- Create a gas-permeable layer beneath the slab or flooring.
If these measures don’t work, contact a professional radon mitigation company to assist you.
The bottom line is this: Radon is easy to test for and easy to prevent. If you can’t remember the last time your home was tested for radon, now is the time to make it a priority.
Rich Beasley is an InterNACHI Certified Home Inspector and owner of UP Home Inspection, LLC. He holds over a dozen specialty certifications, including Mold Inspector, Radon Tester, Water Quality Tester, Indoor Air Consultant, and many more.
Excerpted from the Fall 2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.