Periodic table symbol for Radon

Questions about radon you’ve never asked but should

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Radon is an odorless, tasteless, naturally occurring radioactive gas. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States can be attributed to radon gas exposure. In fact, the United States Surgeon General recommends all homes be tested for radon gas.

This begs the question, how do you protect yourself and your family from radon gas?

For answers, I turned to Bradley Burcz, a senior safety and health engineer for DTE Energy for this episode of the Empowering Michigan podcast.

Radon gas awareness podcast transcript:

[00:00] [background music]

Dave Lingholm:  [00:04] Welcome to another episode of the “Empowering Michigan” podcast. I’m your host, Dave Lingholm.

[00:09] Radon is an odorless, tasteless, naturally occurring, radioactive gas. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States can be attributed back to radon gas exposure.

[00:22] In fact, the United States Surgeon General recommends that all homes be tested for radon gas. This begs the question, how do you protect yourself and you family from radon gas?

[00:33] I’m joined today by Brad Burcz, who’s a senior safety and health engineer for DTE Energy to answer that very question. Thanks for joining me today, Brad.

Brad Burcz:  [00:41] Thanks for having me, Dave.

[00:43] Dave: Let’s jump right into it. What exactly is radon gas and why is it dangerous if it’s in my house?

[00:48] Brad: Dave, you really said it. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that’s produced by the decay or breakdown of other radioactive elements, such as uranium, in the Earth’s crust.

[00:58] Radon gas exposure is second only to cigarette smoking as the leading cause of lung cancer. In fact, as a smoker your risk of lung cancer is further increased if you are in a home or exposed to high levels of radon over long periods of time.

[01:13] Dave: That’s pretty incredible. That makes it even more important for people to know if they have radon gas in their house. How do you know if you’ve got radon gas in your home?

[01:24] Brad: Getting your home tested is the only way to know for sure if you and your family are at risk from radon gas. There’s multiple means of testing, including some home test kits that you can buy and do yourself, but I would strongly recommend contacting a certified professional to perform the testing in your home.

[01:42] Dave: Let’s say we’ve done one of the in‑home tests or gone with a certified professional, we’ve found out that the radon gas is above the recommended levels, what are some of the things that can be done to mitigate that?

[01:54] Brad: Again, leaning on someone that is certified and licensed to deal with these problems, specifically, because mitigating a radon problem requires some technical knowledge and really special skills. It’s not something that you’re going to want to undertake yourself.

[02:09] The EPA generally recommends methods that prevent radon from entering your home, typically by drawing the radon from below the house and venting it safely into the upper atmosphere where it’s quickly diluted.

[02:19] Of course, each home is different. Depending on things like the type of foundation you’re on, whether it’s a slab, a crawl space, or a full basement, different radon reduction systems may be used.

[02:29] Simple things such as sealing the cracks in foundation or manipulating the air pressure in your home can also be effective strategies.

[02:36] Dave: That’s really interesting. How often should be testing our homes for radon gas?

[02:42] Brad: That initial test is really important, especially if you’re building a new home or if you’ve just purchased a new home. You definitely want to check initially.

[02:51] If you do come back with some readings that are high or of concern, you’re going to take some steps to mitigate them. It’s going to be really important to do follow‑up testing to make sure that the actions you’ve taken are effective in reducing the radon gas levels.

[03:04] There’s additional monitors that you can leave in your house for extended periods of time that’ll give you a continuous reading and give you an idea of exposure levels to radon throughout the year, too. That certified professional can also provide some additional options to make you feel comfortable with the radon levels in your home.

[03:23] Dave: Why are some areas of Michigan, or even around the country, more prone to radon gas exposure than others? It was interesting, you and I were talking a little bit before about that EPA map. It was fascinating. I wonder why there is such a difference?

[03:39] Brad: It’s due to a number of factors, but primarily the underlying bedrock or soil composition across the country or the state.

[03:50] The different make‑ups and the different concentrations of radon found, combined with the ease of which the radon gas can escape and leach up into the air in your home, or even into bodies of water, is different by geography. Very small distances, a matter of miles sometimes, can make a huge difference.

[04:11] That EPA map is a great resource to get a idea of whether of not you’re in a high‑risk area, but it’s certainly not something you want to depend on to make a definitive statement of whether or not you have a radon gas exposure problem or not.

[04:25] Dave: You still want to make sure you’re getting tested?

[04:27] Brad: Absolutely.

[04:29] Dave: What happens if I think I’ve been exposed to unsafe levels of radon? What’s something I should do?

[04:36] Brad: Unfortunately, there’s no widely available medical test to measure whether or not you’ve been exposed to radon. However, if you think you may have, or if you’re concerned, I’d recommend that you talk to your doctor about whether or not you should start getting regular health check‑ups and tests to look for some of the signs of lung cancer.

[04:54] Additionally, both the EPA and the state of Michigan have some great resources. If you’re local here in Michigan, I’d recommend contacting the Michigan Indoor Radiation Program. They can be reached quite easily at 1‑800‑RADON‑GAS.

[05:08] Furthermore, the EPA has some really good materials, such as “A Citizen’s Guide to Radon.” It’s a guide to protecting yourself and your family from radon gas.

[05:17] Also, “Consumer’s Guide To Radon Reduction, How to Fix Them in Your Home.” These are all free resources available through the EPA’s website and the State of Michigan’s website.

[05:25] Dave: I’ll make sure that we get those included on the website when we post the podcast, because those are some great guides for people. We can’t answer every question in a podcast, so those are great resources for you to turn to.

[05:39] [background music]

[05:40] Thank you, dear listener, for listening again to our podcast. You can stay up to date about the energy industry by following us at DTE_Energy on Twitter, searching for DTE Energy on Facebook and LinkedIn, or keep reading our blog, “Empowering Michigan.” Stay energized.