Michigan homes at higher risk for Radon: here’s what to know

January is Radon Action Month here in Michigan, however many don’t know how prevalent Radon is, or the possible implications of having it in your home. Thanks to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, there are informational resources available to warn and protect homeowners.

When moving into a new home, many people know to look for the “visible” contaminants during the inspection period. However, Michigan homeowners should be more wary of the “invisible” threat of Radon gas in their homes, as houses in Michigan have a significantly higher likelihood of being contaminated compared to the national average.

Radon, a radioactive gas, is a real threat to homeowners because it’s a “secretive” danger. Radon is odorless, tasteless, and invisible, which means that without proper detection equipment, a house can be contaminated with Radon for an extended period without the owner knowing.

Since Michigan is on average at higher risk for radon contamination, Mr. Leslie E. Smith, III is designated as the Indoor Radon Specialist for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, and gives speeches and information seminars about the topic.

“Radon is a Class A carcinogen, which means it is known to cause cancer in humans,” Smith said. “It is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking, and results in approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year.”

No matter where a house is located, due to the way radon is produced, a house can be at risk.

“It comes from the radioactive decay (breakdown) of radium, which comes from the radioactive decay of uranium, both of which are found in at least trace amounts in almost any kind of soil or rock,” Smith said. “Because it’s a gas, radon can travel through the soil, and it generally moves from an area of higher pressure to one of lower pressure… Ultimately, tiny or large openings in the foundation floor or walls can act as entry points, and the pressure difference between the soil and the house acts as the driving force that allows radon to enter your home.”

The dangerous effects of Radon, combined with how easily and quietly it can enter a home will drive many to get their house tested for contamination. Unlike smoke and Carbon Monoxide, which can be detected by active alarms, Radon must be detected with a kit, obtained from multiple possible sources.

“Radon test kits are available from your local health department, or they can be purchased at some hardware stores, home improvement centers, or other retail outlets,” Smith said. “In Michigan one in four homes have high radon level… elevated radon levels have been found in ALL 83 Michigan Counties. It does not matter where the home is located. All homes should be tested for radon gas.”

While the possibility of Radon contamination may be frightening, Michigan residents can take comfort in knowing that the state government is on top of the issue. Existing or prospective homeowners can get more information by visiting www.michigan.gov/radon or attending a radon outreach seminar.