Radon in the Home Still a Silent Killer

Gloria Linnertz was so angry and grief-stricken that she told The Chicago Sun-Times that she only wanted to do one thing to her home: Tear it to the ground.

Her husband, Joe Linnertz, died of lung cancer in 2006. The cancer was brought on by radon gas levels in their home that registered four times higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard. Their home was not new, but, at 18 years old, wasn't ancient, either.

Sadly, her husband had once suggested testing their home for radon after seeing a story about it on the news. Unfortunately, that never happened. A year later, Joe Linnertz, a non-smoker, developed lung cancer.

You, too, are at risk -- regardless of whether you live in a house or an apartment.
Fears concerning radon are legitimate. Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Not a single state in the country is immune from this colorless, odorless, radioactive gas. It seeps in from the soil through heating and ventilation systems.

Worse, radon gas exposure can accumulate even more in newer homes and apartments since they are typically better sealed.

To assess your risk, homeowners and apartment dwellers are encouraged to buy a radon test kit which retail for less than $30 and are available at your local hardware store. The individual instructions vary but typically require exposing a passive device to interior air conditions and then sending it to a certified lab for review. While postage is generally not included with the kit price, lab testing costs are included. Professional radon testing usually costs between $125-$350 depending on where you live.

Apartment dwellers and home renters who discover excessive radon levels should contact their landlord immediately. Most states do not have established rules concerning the landlord's responsibility when it comes radon (Maine will the be first state in 2012 to require landlords to test for radon exposure). However, given that renters have the negotiating upper hand these days, and the fact that rent levels continue to free fall nationwide, a smart landlord will make the changes necessary to keep happy (and healthy) tenants. More tips for renters dealing with radon can be found here.

Homeowners who discover lethal radon levels should immediately hire a professional to mitigate the health risks. Mitigation typically costs between $800-$1,200, and should be performed by certified professionals by the National Radon Proficiency Program (NEHA-NRPP).

Matt and Deena Warner, a Virginia couple, discovered high levels of radon when they purchased their home. For health and resale reasons they immediately located a contractor and fixed the problem. "They sunk a pipe through the concrete slab beneath our house and hooked a vacuum pump to it that continually sucks the air out from beneath the house and vents it to the outside," explains Mr. Warner.

The couple says that fixing the problem has given them peace of mind since they have a young family and spend hours working in their design studio. Adds Warner, "I still test our radon levels every year, but we haven't had any problems since the system was installed."

A more in-depth report about radon's risks prepared by the Environmental Law Institute can be downloaded in pdf form here.
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