August 20, 2019

DEQ urging residents to test for radon exposure

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NORTHERN MICHIGAN — The Department of Environmental Quality is urging residents to test for radon exposure in their homes during National Radon Action Month, as one in four Michigan residences exceeds the federal safety threshold.

District Health Department No. 2 Environmental Health Director Chuck Lichon said radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is tasteless, odorless and colorless. It is a Class A carcinogen, which means it is known to cause cancer. The DEQ says it results in 21,000 deaths each year in the U.S. and is the leading cause of lung cancer, behind smoking.

Lichon said testing for radon can have a consequential effect on rates of developing lung cancer.

“Measuring the radon levels in households can significantly reduce the risk of lung cancer for families,” Lichon said. “Testing for radon is easy and inexpensive, and homes with elevated levels can be fixed.”

Lichon said fewer homes in Mid- and Northern Michigan exceed the federal threshold for radon exposure than elsewhere in the state.

“Most radon active areas are in the southern portion of the state due to the makeup of the soil down there,” Lichon said.

According to a DEQ map of excessive exposure rates in Michigan counties, rates of excessive exposure in Northern Lower Michigan tend to fluctuate around 10-24 percent, whereas in the southern portion of the state rates are generally closer to 20-40 percent.

Arenac County has one of the lowest rates of excessive home exposure in the state at 4 percent. Homes in Ogemaw and Oscoda counties tend to have higher rates of excessive exposure at 13 and 17 percent respectively. According to the DEQ, no matter the average excessive exposure rate of a resident’s county, a home should still be tested at least every other year. Lichon said the best time to do so is in the winter, when homes are generally shuttered from the elements.

If a home is found to have excessive exposure rates, the generally used method of reducing that is by introducing a ventilation system into the lower level of a home. He said it acts by venting the radon out of the lowest level of a home as it rises out of the soil underneath the residence.

Lichon said while it is important to take steps to protect oneself from radon exposure, there is no need for residents to feel overly concerned.

“It can take decades to develop cancer,” Lichon said. “The more radon you have in a home, the higher chance over time you have of developing cancer. That does not necessarily mean that you will develop it. … This is not something to be paranoid about.”

From Lichon’s experience, there are not many people who take the initiative to test their homes for radon. Residents interested in doing so can contact DHD2 in Ogemaw and Oscoda counties at 800-504-2650 for information on how to procure a testing kit. Residents of Arenac County are asked to contact the Central Michigan District Health Department at (989) 366-9166. More information can also be found by contacting the DEQ’s radon talk line at 800-723-6642.

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