Residents take radon warning seriously
Marion County is in an area prone to high levels of harmful radon gas, Dr. Paige Hatcher of St. Luke Physician Clinic said.
Radon is a naturally occurring gas that is radioactive, colorless, odorless, and tasteless. Prolonged exposure is the second biggest factor in lung cancer behind tobacco smoke, Hatcher said. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates radon is responsible for about 20,000 lung cancer deaths annually in the U.S.
Radon’s role in lung cancer has only been understood fairly recently, following studies of lung cancer among non-smokers.
“You can’t see it or smell it, and you don’t even know you’re getting exposed until you either get cancer or test for it in your home,” she said. “There are no secondary side-effects to radon exposure, so you never feel sick.”
Radon typically seeps from the ground into homes through a home’s foundation or basement, then it gets trapped in the home. Homes with basements or cracks in the foundation or basement are more likely to let in radon, while tightly sealed homes are more likely to keep it trapped in the home, Hatcher said.
“Radon is present in both new and old homes,” she said. “It comes up through basements and crawlspaces through cracks in the foundation. New houses are airtight enough to allow radon to build up inside the home.”
Radon can be detected with a home test kit. Contractors can install systems to reduce radon in a home, either by better sealing the foundation or basement or by venting the gas out the roof of the house because it’s lighter than air. Ironically, the lightweight gas decays into lead.
Jim Hefley said that when he lived in Manhattan his house had high radon levels. The system to relieve it cost between $1,100 and $1,200, he said.
“It’s around $1,200 on average to fix homes, but it varies,” Hatcher said. “Young families planning on living in their house for a while should definitely consider testing, especially if they have children. Studies show the longer the radon exposure, the more likely to develop cancer.”
Test kits for radon are typically available at hardware and building supply stores and county extension offices. This month, though, Kansas Department of Health and Environment has provided test kits to county health departments to give out free.
However, Marion County only received 20 kits, and they were all given out by the end of the day Jan. 8, county environmental health director Tonya Richards said. The state acknowledged it underestimated demand and would send more kits to counties with demand. To request a kit from the state, visit the county health department or call (620) 382-2550.
Hatcher graduated from University of Kansas Medical School with specialties in family and preventive medicine. She also has a master’s degree in public health.