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$5 to Slay A Monster in the Basement

There may be a silent killer — radon — hiding in your basement. Here's how to test to make sure your home is safe.

Radon is the No. 2 leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.  It is odorless, colorless and invisible. The gas is caused by a leaking of decaying soil around the base and under the home.

The gas affects anyone who spends time in the basement, and is much worse in the winter months here in Wisconsin because we close the windows and cover the drafts that would otherwise help to vent the gas. In essence, we’re coming up on radon danger season.

I have been witness to painful devastation caused by radon. My husband’s cousin — a wonderful, warm woman — died of metastasized lung cancer caused by radon in her basement in Omaha, NE. Her time between diagnosis and death was extremely short.

On her block, no one knew about radon. The mysterious death of the dog across the street was chalked up to chance. The death of the young teenager to cancer on the block was thought to maybe be due to genetics. They didn’t know their neighborhood had high radon levels. Her home’s radon test came too late — after the diagnosis — and confirmed toxic levels in their home.

If you live in Shorewood, it is safe to say that radon has been found in a basement near you.

Jamie Berg is the director of the North Shore Health Department which now serves seven communities: Bayside, Brown Deer, Fox Point, Glendale, River Hills, Shorewood, and Whitefish Bay. 

Said Berg, “You have to test your home — the house next door will likely have a very different level, because the gas comes from the particular soil decay around and under your home in particular.”

Luckily for us all, Berg has a $5 test kit available to you right now, thanks to a national Environmental Protection Agency grant that may end in 2012. Stop in and get the kit at the Shorewood Health Department location on the lower level of the Library building any day from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

It is simple to use:

  • Put the kit in the basement or lowest level of your dwelling.
  • Collect it in three days; fill out some questions (date started, date ended).
  • Put five stamps on it and mail unit.
  • The lab work is included in the $5 — just wait for the results. 

Surprisingly, (or not, perhaps), according to Berg, “Many people buy the kit and never use it.”

I got one yesterday and even though I’m absolutely the type to feel better that I have it in my house and that maybe will suffice, I’m going to force myself to do it. My whole family utilizes the basement, not to mention the rest of the house.

Berg’s other words of wisdom involve the potential sale of your home.

“If you are planning on buying or selling a home, you’ll want to have the home tested," she continued. "Adding the test to the inspection is about $150. If it tests positive, you'll need to disclose it in the condition report."

Scoring the test

“The ideal score is a 0.0 pCi/L,” said Berg.  The “acceptable level” is less than 4.0 pCi/L (Pico Curies per Liter) on the scale, and anything higher than that is a toxic range. 

If radon is detected, the next step is to do the 90-day test, which is $10 at the Health Department.

“Everyone is encouraged to do a second test before spending any money on mitigating radon, either a second short-term test or the 90-day test,” Berg said.

If you do decide to go for radon mitigation, it involves piping and venting the soil by running PVC pipes up from the basement and out the walls. It costs between $800 and $1,200. The Health Department provides this updated site to find approved radon mitigation contractors

For more information about radon, contact the Waukesha County Radon Center at 262-896-8300.

Here in Shorewood, stop by the Shorewood/Whitefish Bay Health Department Office to get your kit from Kathy or Kathleen at: 414-847-2713, or the main number for the North Shore Health Department: 414-371-2980.

January is radon awareness month, but it’s hard to do anything about it then. Do it now, and celebrate your health.

Shorewood Grad October 26, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Wow! what a great story...thank you for this valuable information.

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