Wisconsin health officials warn radon in homes, schools could cause cancer

Wisconsin health officials warn radon in homes, schools could cause cancer

You can’t see it or smell it, but a gas found in your home could cause cancer.

Radon exposure is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking, yet many people across southern Wisconsin don’t test for it.

According to the Wisconsin Deptartment of Health, one in 10 homes has high radon levels.

The toxic gas could be in any building, including your house, workplace, or your kid’s school. Most people don’t realize radon is a group one carcinogen, meaning it’s as dangerous as arsenic and mustard gas.

“Radon is a colorless, odorless gas,” said John Hausbeck, Environmental Health Services supervisor. “You’re not going to detect it any one way or another. It’s something that could be in your house and not your neighbor’s or vice-versa.”

Radon comes from the breakdown of rock and soil and can enter buildings through cracks and crevices in the foundation.

“It depends on all the varying factors in the soil, it depends on how your house was built and what cracks and crevices are there, how vapors are moving through the soil,” said Hausbeck. “There are so many factors, it’s hard to keep tabs on them.”

The Southeast Wisconsin Radon Information Center says the toxic gas is very common in the state, which is why it’s so important to test for it.

Unlike carbon monoxide, radon won’t immediately harm you. But health officials warn its effects can be just as deadly.

“With radon, you don’t have that immediate hazard. It’s something that’s a long-term exposure risk,” said Hausbeck. “It’s the same thing with tobacco smoking. There is a risk from every puff you take, but the sooner you quit, the sooner you start improving things.”

While tests can cost thousands of dollars for schools, since they have to sample every classroom, homeowners can purchase a kit for $10-$20. Once you have that, all you do is open it in your home for a few days, then close it and send it to the lab for testing.

The Wisconsin Department of Health recommends testing any room you spend time in, especially rooms with group contact and those directly above unoccupied spaces that are in contact with the ground, like crawl spaces or tunnels.

If the test comes back positive, and you do find radon in your home, changing your heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems could fix the problem, but could also cost you thousands of dollars.

You can get a radon test kit by contacting your local Radon Information Center here.

January is National Radon Action Month.

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