Daryl Steele still talks about that one house south of Morton. Steele, a state licensed radon measurement specialist, tested the house for radon and found the level at 99 pCi/L (picoCuries per liter of air). The level of radon was off the charts, considering that any home at 4 pCi/L or above is strongly urged to have a radon removal system installed. Luckily, the house was vacant. But radon gas is still a big problem.
Daryl Steele still talks about that one house south of Morton.
Steele, a state licensed radon measurement specialist, tested the house for radon and found the level at 99 pCi/L (picoCuries per liter of air). The level of radon was off the charts, considering that any home at 4 pCi/L or above is strongly urged to have a radon removal system installed.
"I thought my equipment was broken," says Steele, owner of American Property Inspections Enviro Phase, Inc. in Pekin. But, after another test, Steele determined that was a true reading. Luckily, he added, the house was vacant.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas released in rock, soil and water from the decay of uranium. While levels outside pose a relatively low risk, radon can build up inside buildings to dangerous levels. Odorless and colorless, radon is known as a silent killer because it's the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, radon gas causes more than 20,000 deaths annually in the United States. To put that into perspective, radon caused more deaths in 2009 than drunk driving, fires and carbon monoxide combined.
January is National Radon Action Month.
"Honestly, people don't believe radon will kill them," says Lamar Harris, owner of Express Home Inspections, LLC in Hanna City and a state licensed radon measurement specialist. "They can't see it, can't smell it, can't taste it so why should they pay for it."
But Harris, like Steele, has seen some very high radon measurements in central Illinois.
"Germantown Hills and Chillicothe are the worst, followed by Dunlap," said Harris. His readings in Germantown Hills are generally around 23; Chillicothe ranges from 18 to 21 and Dunlap from 11 to 15 pCi/L. Peoria typically runs from 4.7 to 5.9 pCi/L. Anything above 4 pCi/L should be mitigated, but even homes with ranges between 2 pCi/l and 4 pCi/l are recommended for a radon removal system.
Radon testing options vary - from inexpensive do-it-yourself kits available at home improvement and hardware stores to professional tests that cost $100 or more. For a professional test, be sure to hire a licensed specialist. Find one in your area at www.radon.illinois.gov.
Ruth Ann Lipic, former director of Illinois State University's radon awareness program, says all radon tests "work very well. They work in different ways."
But one thing homeowners shouldn't do is believe that one test is enough. "The geology changes; it's dynamic underground," says Lipic, adding that homes can also develop cracks over time letting in radon. "Our homes are like little vacuums sitting on the ground."
According to the EPA, homes with low indoor air pressures, poorly sealed foundations and several entry points for soil air may draw as much as 20 percent of their indoor air from the soil.
Lipic, who also serves on the McLean County Radon Task Force, notes that even people who don't use their basements should test for radon.
"If it's high, mitigate. Our HVAC systems are so good, they're circulating that air," from the basement.
Even if your home is already outfitted with a mitigation system, homeowners are advised to do DIY tests every two years to make sure the system is venting correctly. If that screening test comes back high, call the installer.
"If you have a system, it's serving a dual purpose. Besides getting rid of radon you are taking gallons of moisture out of the air, and you're also removing the unknown soil gases that we don't know much about yet," says Lipic.
"In McLean County, because of our ability to go to health fairs and home shows and work with the home extension, I am proud to say that McLean County has the highest percentage of homes tested (for radon) throughout the state."
If your home does test high, contact a state licensed mitigation specialist. In Illinois, businesses are not allowed to do both measurement and mitigation to avoid conflicts of interest.
Amy Miller, a state licensed mitigation specialist with Reading & Son Plumbing, Inc. in Peoria, says systems range in price depending on how many venting points are necessary and whether there is a crawl space that needs to be sealed. Simple systems can cost $800 to $1,200 while systems that include crawl spaces are more labor intensive and "can range from $1,200 to $1,400."
Homeowners should get several estimates from licensed professionals.
"Not every house (has elevated radon) but about 70 percent of the ones we've tested do," says Steele. "I always recommend people get tested."
Jennifer Davis can be reached at (309) 686-3249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.