When you think of lung cancer, smoking probably comes to mind. But radon also can play a role in lung cancer for people of all ages. As a naturally occurring radioactive gas, radon is present in many Eastern Iowa homes. Local experts say learning more about what it is and how you can protect yourself is critical.
“Radon is a byproduct of the natural decay of uranium that is in the soil here in Iowa,” said Dean Berchenbriter, owner of GeoServices in Cedar Rapids. GeoServices offers radon testing and mitigation, and Berchenbriter says everyone should be aware of the potential risks.
“The biggest danger of radon is coming down with lung cancer. It’s a radioactive gas that you’re breathing in,” Berchenbriter said. “Statistically, it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer. Most people don’t worry about it because they don’t think about it. But the less radon you breathe, the better off you are.”
In the Midwest, radon is naturally present in the open air at very low levels. But when it is present in homes, it’s often at a higher concentration. Basements in particular are susceptible — since they are closest to the soil, they are the most obvious area to detect radon.
“In Iowa, it’s a very common problem to have. Two-thirds of homes will typically test above the acceptable level,” Berchenbriter said. “You may have a problem and not even know it, so I believe everyone should at least test for it.”
Since radon is a colorless, odorless gas, the only way to identify whether your home has too much radon is to test for it using one of two standard methods.
“You can get a testing kit from the Linn County Health Department for $5. It has sealed charcoal, and you just follow the instructions in the kit, mail it in and then you’ll get the results back in a couple of weeks,” Berchenbriter said. The other option is to hire a professional to come in with equipment and run tests in your space — typically, this method will take about two days. At GeoServices, this testing costs $125.
With your test results, you’ll learn what level of radon exposure exists in your home.
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“The action level for radon is 4.0, according to the EPA — so they recommend that you put a radon mitigation system in place if your home measures above 4.0,” Berchenbriter said.
If testing indicates you have a problem, licensed radon mitigation companies like GeoServices can help.
“With professional mitigation, the most common technology is sub-slab depressurization,” Berchenbriter said. “We will drill into the foundation floor and then run pipes through the home and out the garage or roof to vent the radon outside of the home.”
For most homes, the cost comes in under $1,000, Berchenbriter said.
“Cost of mitigation obviously depends on what type of home you have. With more floors and more walls, the cost may be more,” he said.
He stressed not to wait until you’re going to sell your home to test for radon.
“Testing is mostly commonly associated with homebuyers’ inspections, but exposure to radon can happen anywhere at any time,” he said. “Normally, we recommended that you retest every two years to make sure your levels are within normal range long-term.”
After making sure that your home is safe, Berchenbriter also advises thinking about the other places your family spends the most time.
“In addition to homes, radon could be present in schools and day care centers,” he said. “Day cares are supposed to routinely test for it. So that’s something parents should be aware of as well. You can ask your day care provider or your child’s school about it, if you are concerned.”