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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog

Radon Testing

Posted by Jason Haupt - Air Quality

It is that time of the year again - time to think about radon in your home. January is Radon Action Month, and is one of the best times to test your home for radon. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization both classify radon as a "Known Human Carcinogen." The U.S. EPA estimates that 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to radon. In Illinois, an estimated 1,160 people develop lung cancer that is attributed to radon. More lung cancer deaths are attributed to radon than second-hand smoke, and yet I still find that there is still a significant lack of knowledge about radon.

Radon is a naturally occurring colorless, odorless, and tasteless radioactive gas. As a result, the only way to know if you have elevated levels of radon in your home is to test. Radon can get into any home and can be elevated in homes regardless of foundation type, age, or style. It only needs the smallest gap or crack to enter your home. Any cracks in the foundation, plumbing penetrations, sump pits, and drains are all ways that radon can enter the home. In Illinois 36% of homes tested have levels that are above the U.S. EPA action level (4.0 picocuries per liter of air).

Testing your home for radon is easy and can be done by the homeowner or resident, or you can hire a professional to come in and test your home. If you are going to hire someone to test your home, a list of licensed professionals can be found on the Illinois Emergency Management Agency's (IEMA) website (https://www.illinois.gov/iema/NRS/Radon/Pages/default.aspx). If you wish to test your home yourself, a list of sellers of low cost test kits can also be found on the IEMA website. Test kits can be purchased at big box stores; they may also be available from your county health department. Check with your health department to see if they are available. Even if you have tested your home in the past, U.S. EPA recommends that you test your home every two years.

If you are testing your own home, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • There are many types of tests available. When purchasing a test read the label. Some tests have an analysis fee in addition to the purchase price.
  • In the case of activated charcoal tests, keep them away from moisture.
  • Test on the lowest livable level of the home. Place in an area that is away from outside doors and windows and between three and six feet off the ground.
  • Test above all foundation types in the home. If you have a basement and a crawl space, you will need two tests.


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