January is National Radon Action Month – Part 2
One in four homes in Michigan may have radon levels that exceed federal action levels. State and federal programs provide resources and information to protect your family.
The Michigan Indoor Radon Program, a non-regulatory program under the direction of the Department of Environmental Quality, has been in existence since the mid-1980’s. The purpose of the program is “to increase awareness of the health risk associated with exposure to elevated indoor radon levels, to encourage testing for radon and to also encourage citizens to take action to reduce their exposure once elevated radon levels are found.”
With matching funds from the U.S. EPA, the Michigan program provides a toll-free hotline (800-RADON GAS or 800-723-6642). The hotline provides information on:
- Health risks from radon exposure,
- Testing information
- How to interpret the test results
- How to reduce elevated radon levels in the home
The hotline also can assist callers with finding do-it-yourself kits, professional testers and/or radon mitigation contractors.
The Michigan Indoor Radon program has a long history of education and action. Originally, the program conducted statewide residential indoor radon surveys to determine the health risks from radon exposure. Seventy-nine of 83 counties participated in these surveys in partnership with the EPA and local health departments. Survey results showed that nearly 12 percent of all Michigan homes had elevated levels of radon.
Another survey, completed in 1989, evaluated radon levels in schools. These results showed that nearly one in four buildings has at least one room with elevated radon levels.
Based on the results of these surveys, it was decided that residents across the state were being exposed to radon at some level. So the program shifted from surveying to educating and testing. Funding was used to provide test kits, educational materials and outreach efforts. These programs were expanded to include builders and realtors.
“Any home could have a radon problem, whether it’s in an area with high radon potential or an area with a low radon potential, or whether it’s old or new, energy-efficient or drafty, build on a slab or built over a basement or crawlspace,” according the DEQ. There are no physical signs indicating the presence of radon. There are no warning symptoms to let you know you are being exposed. The only way to know if your home has a problem or if you and your family are at risk is to test.
While your neighbor’s test results may provide an indication of the potential for a problem in your home, radon levels can vary significantly from building to building and lot to lot. Do not rely on your neighbor’s test results to determine your level of safety. Test your home to be sure.
Testing can be done either with a do-it-yourself kit or by hiring a professional.
The first test is usually a short-term screening measurement. It must be done under closed house conditions which makes doing a test during winter months ideal. Short-term tests typically range from two to seven days. Some tests can take up to 90 days depending on the type of device selected.
The most common short-term test is an activated carbon test. The test time for these is typically two to seven days. They may be a plastic or metal canister, a glass or plastic vial or a paper pouch. Usually – but not always – the cost of the test includes postage and lab fees.
Another short-term test measurement device is an Electret-Passive Environmental Radon Monitor or E-PERM. Originally used primarily by professional testers, this type of test has become more accessible to homeowners.
You should continue to test every two years if levels stay below the 4pCi/l level.
The Alpha track detector is a measurement tester that is most often used when the short-term test indicates an elevated radon level. It is a one-year test that monitors levels during normal living conditions taking into account changes in home occupancy and weather conditions because ventilation and weather can impact radon level in the home.
Additional testing instructions or would like more information on ways to reduce radon in your home, the EPA has some good publications:
U.S. EPA Citizen’s Guide to Radon
Consumer’s guide to Radon Reduction
For information on what radon is, where it is found and exposure levels, please see Part One of this Michigan State University Extension series.