Elevated levels of Radon found in SE Wisconsin

EPA recommends testing
Posted at 9:54 PM, Jul 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-18 13:38:17-04

A toxic gas that could be in your home is responsible for killing more than 20,000 people each year in America.

While most people would assume we’re talking about Carbon Monoxide, we’re actually referring to Radon gas.

Thousands of homes in Wisconsin have elevated levels of Radon inside, but most homeowners don’t even know they’re living with it until they try to sell their home and are asked by a home inspector or potential buyer for test results.

Radon has similar characteristics to Carbon Monoxide. You can’t see, smell, or taste it.

News outlets report on Carbon Monoxide deaths every year, but the truth is only about 430 people die from it nationwide.

How deadly is Radon?

The following statistics were provided by the United States Environmental Protection Agency:

Radon-related deaths: 21,000/yr.

Drunk driving deaths: 17,400/yr.

Falls in the home: 8,000/yr.

Drownings: 3,900/yr.

House fire deaths: 2,800/yr.

“The health risk in southeast Wisconsin for Radon is significant,” Steven Todd, Hazardous Materials Coordinator for the Division of Environmental Health in Waukesha County said. “You definitely want to know what your home Radon level is.”

Radon is a toxic gas that comes from naturally occurring Uranium resting in the soil. If the soil or rock below your home shifts, Radon is released.

"There's no question that Radon can cause lung cancer,” Todd said. “We've done plenty of research on that. There haven’t been any studies on why we have higher levels here."

The national indoor average Radon radioactivity level in homes is 1.3 picocuries per liter (pCi/L).

Average Radon levels for homes in southeast Wisconsin is 5.4 pCi/L, four times the national average.

The EPA recommends fixing your home if Radon levels are higher than 4 pCi/L. However, the EPA cautions that radon levels less than 4 pCi/L still pose a risk for health issues.

More than 50 percent of all homes tested in Oak Creek, Hales Corners, and Franklin had high levels of Radon.

You can view the state’s interactive Radon map here to view testing results in your neighborhood, by clicking here.

Gordon Delfs didn’t know much about Radon until his daughter and son-in-law purchased a home earlier this year.

As part of the inspection process, the home was tested for Radon. Results showed levels 12 times higher than the national average.

“It definitely escalates the cancer rate and that’s my concern,” Delfs said. “My concern is the health impact over the long run.”

You can either test for Radon yourself, or hire an expert.

“Radon can be easily mitigating for most homes by simply installing a vent pipe and a fan,” Todd said.

A professional Radon mitigation system costs about $1,000. It’s an investment Delfs didn’t think twice about.

“It’s just a fan creating a vacuum in the sump pump and then it blows the Radon gas out the top like a chimney,” Delfs said.

According to the Southeast Wisconsin Radon Center, more than 3,000 homeowners installed a mitigation system in 2014.

“It’s becoming more common for home inspectors and purchase offers to include a Radon contingency clause that would include a test be done,” Todd said.

Some states like Illinois and Minnesota now require sellers to disclose Radon test results.

“Since it’s a situation that can be fixed, there’s no point in living with it,” Delfs said.

Experts recommend testing for Radon every three years and in-home test kits can be purchased at most hardware stores and county health departments.

As of now, there are no plans to require Radon testing in Wisconsin.

You can read more about Radon and how to test for it here, by clicking here.