Radon levels rise; government urges testing in homes

A recent report by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency found that nearly half of 22,000 homes tested in Illinois had excess levels of radon. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is unknown to many and is the second leading cause of lung cancer.

Gary Wright, assistant director for IEMA, said people should be readily prepared for the effects of the cancer causing gas.

“Anything that you can do that’s easy and prevents something extremely dangerous is good. We’re spending a lot of money on stopping smoking, and we should do the same with radon testing,” said Wright.

According to an IEMA press release, radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas that comes from the radioactive decay of naturally occurring uranium in the soil. Radon enters homes through cracks in building foundations, sump pumps, and crawl spaces. After a recent study, the IEMA found that approximately 46% of Illinois homes were sitting on radon levels greater than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s action level.

Patti Thompson, public affairs director for IEMA, said that although residents of high rise apartments may not need to seek inspection, lower floor tenants and all home owners should be inspected as soon as possible.

“There is no law for radon testing, it’s not like carbon monoxide detectors. The only way you’ll know if there is radon in your home is if you get a detector,” Thompson said.

Thompson said homeowners have two options for seeking treatment of their home. Do-it-yourself kits are available at most local hardware stores or licensed radon contractors are readily available throughout the state. Tracy Morjal, a McHenry County Resident and a mother of two, experienced the positive effects of radon testing. According to the release, Morjal had her home tested only to find double the amount of radon acceptable for a safe home.

“I want people to know about radon and take it very seriously,” Morjal said. “I’m very concerned about my children’s health and I never allowed smoking in the house to protect them from second hand smoke. But when I found out that our house had high levels of radon, which is the leading cause of cancer in non-smokers, I knew I had to get it fixed.”

Gov. Rod Blagojevich proclaimed last January as “Radon Action Month,” and the IEMA and the American Lung Association handed out over 2500 complimentary radon detectors. After the recent month of September, which was National Preparedness Month, Wright said the IEMA is now continuing to spread the message of radon awareness throughout the county and state.

With presentations and educational seminars from real estate agents, licensed radon professionals, University of Illinois at Springfield and Chicago, Illinois State University, county health departments and the American Lung Association, homeowners are strongly urged to be proactive against the threat of radon and its cancer-causing effects.

With a drastic increase in high levels of radon over the past two years, homeowners and apartment tenants alike are strongly encouraged to self-detect their surroundings for radon.