Working from home puts potential for deadly radon gas in the spotlight

Date:  December 15, 2020  
Time: All Day Event

animation of radon gas from the dirt below a house into a system to release the gas into the air

Working from home means many people have set up offices in basements and in other areas of their homes. But as people seek to stay safe at home, they also need to be aware of the potential in-home hazard presented by radon — a cancer-causing odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas.

Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and claims around 21,000 lives in the U.S. every year.

Although some cancers can be treated, the survival rate is one of the lowest for those with lung cancer. Fortunately, many of the causes of lung cancer can be prevented — and this is especially true for radon.

The Office of the Surgeon General has issued a health advisory warning Americans about the risk from breathing radon in indoor air. Americans are urged to test their homes to find out how much radon they might be breathing.

Radon comes from the natural breakdown (radioactive decay) of uranium in soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe through cracks and voids in the foundation. Radon can be found all over the U.S. It can get into any type of building — homes, offices and schools —and can climb to high levels if it's trapped indoors.

For most Americans, the greatest exposure to radon is in their homes, whether those homes are old or new. Any home, any type, at any location can have a radon problem. In Michigan, one in every four homes has levels of radon that are expected to exceed the 4 picocuries per liter of air (4pCi/L) action level, and certain counties are expected to have greater risk of having elevated levels.

If your home has not been tested in the last few years, now is a good time to take the test. This will help protect your family's health and it's easy to do. Testing is recommended every two to five years because homes can settle, develop new cracks in the foundation, and this can cause radon levels to change.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends homes be fixed if the radon level is 4 picocuries per liter of air (4pCi/L) or above. While testing can be easy and inexpensive, millions of Americans have yet to take this first important step to protect their family.

The indoor air quality of your home can affect your family's health. You can test your home yourself or hire a contractor certified in radon measurement and mitigation. Reliable do-it-yourself testing devices can be purchased at your local hardware and home improvement stores or online.

Fixing a radon problem is easy too — and doesn't have to be costly. Radon mitigation systems can lower radon to a safer level indoors. A radon mitigation system is just a simple series of pipes and fans that that remove radon vapors from under your foundation and exhaust them above the roof where it's safe. Here in Michigan a radon mitigation system generally costs between $800 and $1,500, depending on where you are in the state and who you hire.

It's inexpensive to build a new home with radon-resistant features too. A better home will be both greener for the planet and healthier for your family.

To learn more about radon, see the Radon — Test, Fix, Save a Life video and Keeping Your Home Safe from Radon booklet, both available with additional resources for homeowners, realtors, builders, schools, and health care at Michigan.gov/Radon. For questions about radon see the Radon FAQ or call 800-RADONGAS (800-723-6642).

January is Radon Action Month. Watch EGLE's Twitter account for information throughout the month.

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