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Winter is the Time to Test Homes for Radon

PHOTO: January is Radon Action Month, and this year's winner of a radon poster contest illustrates the damage radon gas can do to people's lungs. Photo courtesy of EPA.
PHOTO: January is Radon Action Month, and this year's winner of a radon poster contest illustrates the damage radon gas can do to people's lungs. Photo courtesy of EPA.
January 17, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. – You can't see, smell or taste it, but radon could be present in dangerous levels in your home, and winter is the best time to find out.

A radon test kit includes an envelope that remains open in an indoor space for several days, then is sealed and sent to a lab for analysis.

Brett Sherry, the state radon coordinator for the Oregon Health Authority, says radon is a dangerous byproduct of decaying uranium, which occurs naturally in the soil.

When doors and windows are closed in the colder months, he says radon levels are easier to detect.

"Typically our homes are under negative pressure, so they wind up acting like a big vacuum and sucking that radon gas out of the soil, and pulling it into crawlspaces and basements and then up into the house," he explains.

Radon has been identified as the second leading cause of lung cancer, and claims the lives of more than 20,000 Americans each year.

Inexpensive radon test kits are available at most hardware stores or online.

Sherry says test results indicate one-fourth to one-third of homes in the Portland metro area have high enough radon levels to be of concern, and radon build-up can occur in buildings anywhere in the state.

Testing is just the first step. Because there's no safe level of exposure, people who find elevated radon levels have to take action. Sherry says he often hears from homeowners who don't realize they have a radon problem until they're ready to move.

"And then when they sell, the buyer has the house tested for radon and if it's found,” he explains, “the seller usually winds up paying for the system anyway. So, you might as well find out if there's a problem now, fix it, and actually enjoy the benefits before you sell the home."

January is Radon Action Month. More information about radon testing, exposure and mitigation is available from the Oregon Health Authority or the national Radon Information Hotline at 1-800-SOS-RADON.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR