Radon is a natural occurring radioactive gas that’s produced when uranium breaks down in the soil. The Environmental Protection Agency says the gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer, behind smoking.
Illinois Schools recommend state schools test for the gas every five years. An in-depth report by 13 Investigates, found that recommendation is almost never being followed in our area. Out of the five biggest school districts in the area, only three schools were tested over the last decade. All the schools were at RPS 205. Dennis Early Childhood in 2011, Roosevelt Community Education Center in 2016, and Marsh Elementary in 2017. According to maps from the EPA, Winnebago County is a hot zone for radon with many areas coming in above the federal safety level of 4.0 pCi/L.
So what about your home? Do you know what you need to do to keep your family safe from radon’s health effects? 13 News spoke with area experts to learn more.
"Generally speaking Winnebago County has elevated radon levels on homes on average," says Winnebago County health Department Environmental Supervisor Ryan Kerch. "From what we’ve seen, yeah, big parts of the county even whole zip codes have averages well into the 5.0 picocuries."
The colorless, odorless, tasteless gas seeps into buildings through cracks in the walls or foundation.
"Radon is definitely the number one cause of lung cancer in people who don’t smoke," says Winnebago County Health Department Environmental Inspector Sheila Jascemskas.
Which is why the health department says homeowners should follow guidelines set by the EPA when it comes to how often you test.
"They like to say every three years, maybe at different seasons so you get a good feel for your basement," says Jascemskas. "Also if you do any changes to your foundation of the property, you replace an air conditioner, or furnace that changes the airflow."
To test for radon homeowners can but radon test kit from the health department for $10. With all the windows and vents shut, it hangs in the room for around three days to a week. After that, it’s sealed and mailed to the testing company for the results. So what do you do if your levels are above 4.0 pCi/L.
"Very simply put it’s often just a pipe that gets drilled through the foundation so it can collect air from under the foundation of the home, pass through the home, and then be released up above the roof line," says Kerch.
There are different versions of these systems And experts say they run anywhere from $800 to $1200.
"When we’ve seen those installed we’ve seen dramatic drops in the levels of radon gas in the basement," says Kerch.