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Deadly poison hard to detect in homes

Being aware of dangers around you is a hard task when they're invisible. Radon is one of those deadly dangers that you cannot see or smell but it could be in your house.

January is National Radon Action Month and Keith Bergeson, Dunn County Health Department Environmental Specialist and coordinator for Radon Information Center in Western Wisconsin, said January is a good time for people to test their homes for radon. He said homes tend to have the highest levels of radon in the winter months, so this is the best time for people to test their homes.

Radon, per the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, is the decay product of radium, which in turn is a decay product of uranium. Radon amounts will vary in soils depending on soil chemistry. The website also said various factors affect the amount of radon that may go into a house.

"The amount of radon that escapes from the soil to enter the house depends on the weather, soil porosity, soil moisture, and the suction of the house," the EPA website states.

Bergeson said there has not been an increase in the actual amount of radon; however, with more testing being done they are finding more homes that have high levels of radon. He said through information gathered from radon tests being done in this area of western Wisconsin, they are finding that one in every three homes tested has high levels of radon. This is higher than the state average of 1 in every 10 homes.

Higher levels of radon could have deadly effects to people if the problem continues in their home.

"Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer death among nonsmokers in America," states the EPA website, "and claims the lives of about 21,000 Americans each year."

However, if radon is detected in homes, Bergeson said the problem is fixable. Anyone needing a professional contractor can go to to get a list of contractors who can fix the problem.

"Exposure to radon is a preventable health risk and testing radon levels in our homes can help prevent unnecessary exposure," said the EPA website. "If a high radon level is detected in your home, you can take steps to fix the problem to protect yourself and your family."

Bergeson said usually it costs about $1,000 to fix and involves the contractor using a PVC pipe running from the basement and up through the house that uses an inline fan to release the radon gas up above the house. Bergeson said the radon going into the air is not a danger to people.

"It dilutes quickly into the air but the exposure to radon next to the exhaust opening is quite high," Bergeson said, "so it must exhaust above the house just like any other exhaust pipe."

In order to test for radon, Bergeson said people can pick up a short-term test kit for about $15; these kits are available at the Pierce County Health Department in Ellsworth, St. Croix County Health Department in New Richmond, St. Croix Zoning Office in Hudson, and the Extension Office in Baldwin. The kit, Bergeson said, is simple to use and people just need to follow the step-by-step instructions included with the kit. Once the test is completed people mail the test kit to the manufacturer (all information for this provided in kit) and then their results will be sent back to them.

Bergeson said it is important for people to test for radon any time construction is done to the basement or there is any disruption to the structure of the house as this could change radon levels in the house.