UPDATED, January of 2017
What is radon? It is a dangerous by-product of something constantly happening under the ground we walk on. As thorium and uranium combine to form lead, highly-radioactive radium is one of the by-products. And from the radium, we have a by-product called radon. It is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that is the leading cause of cancer among non-smokers; and it can find its way out of the ground and into your home.
Radon is estimated to cause 21-thousand lung cancer deaths per year. This is 7.5 times more than deaths from house fires, as well as 17 percent more than the amount of annual deaths from drunk driving.
Nicole Garrett from the Will County Health Department’s Environmental Division says that Will County exhibited the highest measured radon levels in the state of Illinois as recently as 2006, with some readings nearing 200 picoCuries per liter of air. The United States Environmental Protection Agency standards call for action to be taken at FOUR picoCuries per liter.
“Will County is a high radon area because we are in what is known an ‘oceanic territory,” Garrett explains “It goes back to the ‘Wisconsin Glacier,’ which resulted in a lot of uranium being trapped inside bedrock. The decaying process continues to this day, and our homes act as a ‘vacuum’ for the escaping radon gas.”
Garrett added that many Will County homes were built during the major growth era of 1995 to 2005. Many of those homes did not include now required radon mitigation systems.
Through electronic billboards around the area, the Will County Health Department will be reminding you all through January’s Radon Action Month to test your own home for radon. It is very easy to do.
Your first step is to stop by the Will County Health Department Office, at 501 Ella Avenue in Joliet, between 8 and 4:30 Mondays through Fridays. You can also stop by the Health Department’s Northern Branch at 323 Quadrangle Drive in Bolingbrook, or the Eastern Branch at 5601 West Monee-Manhattan Road in Monee; Mondays through Fridays 8 to 4.
Health Department Environmental Director Tom Casey points out that these kits are very small and easy to manage. “We are not talking about air compressors or anything like that,” Casey explained. “These are small kits where you test your home’s air by using the sponge filter to keep the envelope open, and then mailing the envelope only to the Air Chek lab in North Carolina. It’s the inside of the envelope itself that determines the radon level. Postage is included, so there’s no waiting at the post office. You just mail it along with your regular letters. In fact, the biggest part of this kit is the plastic wrap it comes in.”
As for how you test, the Environmental Department’s Brenda Hamby says it should be on the lowest level of your home that you use regularly. “If you are in your basement a lot, test there. If you only use your basement for storage, test on the main floor.”
Testing should also be done away from kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, windows; and any other area where ventilation could affect your reading. And while testing can be done year ‘round, and is recommended if you have just moved into a new home, January is a very ideal month because the cold weather leads to “closed house conditions,” which are very ideal for accuracy.
As your kit instructions will show you, all you have to do is take the sponge filter, prop open the envelope with it, and then hang the envelope with an enclosed plastic hook no more than six feet above the floor. You can also place the envelope on a chair that is at least 20 inches off the ground. Once you allow the kit to stay put for three to seven days, you are then ready to mail it in. Results will be mailed to your home address.
If you are shown to have a radon level above four picoCuries per liter, contact the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Division of the Nuclear Safety Radon Program, or visit the IEMA by going to www.illinois.gov. You will be provided with a list of names and addresses of licensed mitigation professionals that are trained to reduce radon levels.