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May 2011

Is Radon a Danger in Your Home?

This month’s topic is about significant health issue for many Wisconsin homeowners, but one that gets relatively little attention from the media. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), radon is a naturally occurring, odorless, radioactive gas that causes lung cancer. Between 5 and 10 percent of the homes in Wisconsin have radon levels above the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guideline of 4 “picocuries” per liter (pCi/L) for the year average on the main floor. Every region of Wisconsin has some homes with elevated radon levels.

Radon is a serious health concern. According to the National Academy of Sciences, indoor radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. The EPA and the surgeon general strongly recommend that all homes be tested for radon, and if a problem exists, corrective action should be taken. The map accompanying this article shows where radon tends to be a problem, and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services maintains a list of tests by zip code that can help you predict whether you may live in a problem area. This list is at: http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/radiation/RadonProt/Measurements/image_map.htm.

I built my family’s last three homes on fractured limestone ridges in south central and southwest Wisconsin, and all three homes showed high levels of radon contamination based on tests that I conducted and had subsequently reviewed by the State Lab of Hygiene in Madison. One home had a radon level that was so high that we received an immediate call from the state expressing strong concern for the family’s safety and encouraging us to take immediate remediation action.

Radon gas tests generally cost $20 and are available from a number of county health departments that are listed at: http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/radiation/RadonProt/Radon/RadonInfoCenters.htm. You may also purchase radon tests at many hardware stores.

Responding immediately once we knew of the radon threat, I had small cracks in my basement floors and walls sealed to prevent radon from coming into the house. Next, fan and piping equipment was installed to reduce the air pressure below the basement floor so that basement air flows down towards the soil rather than allowing air and radon gas in the soil to flow up into the basement. This is known as “soil depressurization.”

You will want to have the mitigation work done by a qualified professional. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services maintains a list of certified and trained contractors on its website, which is located at: http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/radiation/RadonProt/Lists/MitigProf.htm. Radon mitigation varies in cost; I paid an average of $785 to eliminate Radon gas in each of my last three homes.

Radon is a serious issue that deserves your attention.

Comments on Shrinking Packages

Last month’s article on shrinking package sizes drew quite a reader response as sharp consumers noticed similar package downsizing. For example, Joyce from Oxford told me that she recently purchased Florida’s Natural orange juice in 59-ounce cartons rather than the 64-ounce cartons I’ve found in Monroe. I checked several stores and was surprised to find different sized cartons depending on the store, although the pricing was similar. This further proves it pays to shop around and compare.

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