You can't see, smell or taste it and there are no immediate side effects. For those reasons, radon remains an issue many choose not to address. January is National Radon Action Month, serving as a reminder that you may need to be paying closer attention to the issue.
Iowa has the highest concentration of radon gas and Nebraska, especially the eastern part of the state, also has elevated levels.
"We get calls every day here at National Radon Defense from companies around the country that are in the service industry and have people asking them about radon and how do I prevent radon and they contact us,” says NRD owner and president Curt Drew. "We bring 'em to Omaha, we train 'em in how to mitigate radon and test radon. It's a very growing industry."
Many remain skeptical of radon, a naturally occurring gas in the soil that seeps into homes and businesses through the foundation and gets stuck in a tight, enclosed space. It's not a cheap problem to fix and if you're exposed, health issues don't typically arise for years. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking, blamed for an estimated 15 percent of lung cancer deaths nationwide (as many as 30,000 deaths a year).
“People may, they can read into the misconceptions if they want, but the way I view it if it's a health concern and a risk I just want to take care of it and make sure I'm not exposing myself and my family to some of these harms,” says Nick Rohe, director of operations for Thrasher Basement Systems, Inc.
What can be done to stop exposure? We're seeing more people around the metro install mitigation systems to remove the naturally occurring gas from under their homes.
“Instead of the radon fighting to get through the concrete and into the house, we actively pull it to a suction point and then release it through the attic and though the roof and up into the atmosphere where it's safe,” says Drew.
A mitigation system would be installed after a test is done and elevated levels of radon are found. The system costs about $1,500 and requires little to no maintenance. A safe radon level is below 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). A system installed in a Millard home had a level of 18. Mitigation efforts brought the level down to just 1.
Many don't give radon a second thought until it's time to buy or sell a home. “Because it comes from the soil underneath our house there's really nothing you can do to prevent it,” says Rohe. “So do the test and if it's elevated, what I say to everybody is no radon is good radon so the EPA’s action level is 4 pCi/L, but even levels lower than that pose a risk and pose a concern."
In Douglas County, 55 percent of homes test above the EPA’s recommended safe level. It’s 62 percent in Sarpy County and 75 percent in Cass County. You can hire a professional to do the test for you or there's a simple test that's about $15 you can pick up from the hardware store.