Michigan Indoor Radon Program Overview
The Michigan Indoor Radon Program is a non-regulatory program. Its purpose is to increase awareness of the health risk associated with exposure to elevated indoor radon levels, to encourage testing for radon, and to also encourage citizens to take action to reduce their exposure once elevated radon levels are found. The program resides in the Radiological Protection Section of the Waste Management and Radiological Protection Division of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), matched by state dollars, provides for a toll-free radon hotline (800-RADON GAS/800-723-6642) that citizens can call to get information on the health risk, how to test, how to interpret results, how to reduce elevated radon levels, etc. Literature is distributed free of charge, and program staff can help locate do-it-yourself test kits, professional testers, and radon reduction contractors.
For more information about the history of the radon program in Michigan, read on.
Radon was first recognized as an indoor environmental health concern in the mid-1980s, and media coverage of the issue both enlightened and alarmed the public. The Michigan Department of Public Health (MDPH) Division of Radiological Health (DRH) found itself inundated with inquiries from concerned citizens who wanted to know about the health risk, how to test their homes, and what could be done if elevated radon levels were found.
It soon became evident that radon could, indeed, be a problem in some Michigan homes, and in an effort to better characterize the health risk in this state, MDPH, with the assistance of the U.S. EPA and Michigan's local health departments (LHDs), initiated a statewide residential indoor radon survey. Conducted during the 1987-88 winter heating season with all but four of the state's 83 counties participating, the survey found that approximately 12 percent of the homes in this state would have radon screening levels greater than 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/l). In some counties, as many as 40-45 percent (or more) of the homes would have screening levels above the 4 pCi/l guideline.
In June of 1989, then-Governor James J. Blanchard officially designated the Department of Public Health as the lead State agency to administer Michigan's indoor radon program, and a staff person was hired to carry out the day-to-day duties of the program.
In 1990 MDPH entered the federally funded State Indoor Radon Grant (SIRG) program with an application to conduct a second survey, this one aimed at determining the extent and magnitude of radon levels in the public school environment. Radon levels were measured in rooms in more than 385 school buildings across the state during the 1991 school year. While fewer than 3 percent of the rooms showed radon levels greater than the 4 pCi/l guideline, as many as one in four buildings had at least one room with an elevated radon level.
A third survey was conducted in 1991-92 (using SIRG 2 grant funds) to confirm the extent of the radon problem in the state's one true radon hotspot (discovered during the 1987-88 residential survey), the Republic area in Marquette County. In this project, both short-term and long-term radon detectors were provided to Republic homeowners for measuring more than 250 sites. Preliminary short-term results indicated that more than 84 percent of the returned detectors had radon levels greater than 4 pCi/l. More than 45 percent of those were greater than 20 pCi/l, and more than 5 percent had levels exceeding 100 pCi/l, with the highest result being 389 pCi/l. Long-term test devices placed during this SIRG 2 project were not retrieved until SIRG 3, but the results confirmed the hotspot designation and generally correspond with the above-mentioned percentages for the short-term results.
Data from these three surveys confirmed that Michigan residents could be at risk from exposure to elevated levels of radon gas, and the focus of the SIRG program was shifted toward education and outreach that would strongly encourage testing and mitigation to address that risk.
SIRG 3 program efforts focused primarily on making information materials and radon test kits more accessible to the public. A program was initiated to provide radon test kits to LHDs to ensure availability of test devices in every county. Literature and videotapes were mailed to 670 public and branch libraries. Training of LHD staff, though available in the past, was given a little more emphasis and made available on an annual basis. Outreach materials were procured and "advertised" to the LHDs, and regular correspondence provided encouragement and ideas for the use of these materials.
The test kits, training, and outreach activities were continued in subsequent SIRG years, and eventually training was added for builders and realtors. Other projects included a mitigation demonstration project conducted in Republic to show homeowners that radon levels could be reduced, and that the techniques were not too cumbersome or costly; mailings to builders and realtors as the opportunities arose; a direct mailing to households in nine Zone 1 counties (conducted over two years); and outreach to health educators and worksite wellness coordinators to make them aware of available materials and encourage their participation in outreach activities.
It should be noted that the state indoor radon program is strictly voluntary, and while LHDs are provided nominal financial incentive for their participation, their activities are not mandated. As more test data is accumulated, many LHDs are becoming more proactive and/or aggressive in their outreach, and a few are targeting specific areas in order to increase testing in high radon potential areas.
While future plans include continuing efforts to increase awareness, emphasis will be placed on the need to actually test (and as necessary, mitigate) in order to determine and reduce risk. Most radon activities will continue to be conducted on a statewide basis, and as time and funding permit, emphasis will be placed on high-risk areas, particularly the counties with a high percentage of elevated screening levels. The State Indoor Radon Program will continue to collaborate with LHDs and other partners to help Michigan residents identify and reduce their radon risk.