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Driftless Region residents urged to test homes for radon
Radon can cause cancer
Radon test

DHS Urges Wisconsinites to Test Their Homes for Radon - Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer overall and leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers

DRIFTLESS - During January, which is National Radon Action Month, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) is encouraging residents and business owners to test their homes and buildings for radon. Exposure to radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer nationally, and easy-to-use tests are widely available, according to the WDHS.

“Radon is an environmental health issue in our state. Approximately one in 10 homes have elevated radon levels across Wisconsin,” said Paula Tran, a Wisconsin State Health Officer. “Reducing radon exposure and radon-induced lung cancer in Wisconsin depends on encouraging and supporting all Wisconsinites, including property owners and tenants, to be proactive about testing for radon.”

In Wisconsin, the highest incidence of high levels of radon occurs in the northeastern portion of the state. However, the second highest levels of radon is in the southwestern part of the state.

Locally, testing results illustrate the high levels present here. The radon data, used in this story, represent over 100,000 Wisconsin indoor radon test results conducted from 1995 to 2016. The test results are geocoded and aggregated to U.S. Postal Zip Code boundaries. This means residences in the Zip Code, but outside the municipal boundaries are included.

The radon values are reported in picocuries per liter (pCi/L). A map with specific radon information used in this story was created by the Wisconsin Radon Program, in collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Bureau of Information Technology Services, GIS Program.

Local test results

 In the DeSoto Zip Code of 54624, of 37 tests returned, almost 65 percent exceeded the 4.0 pCi/L, which is the cut-off point  established by the U.S. EPA for safe levels. The median radon level in the DeSoto tests was 5.7 pCi/L and maximum recorded level was 46.9 pCi/L.

Results in the Gays Mills-54631 were much the same. Of the 35 tests reported, 51.4 percent were above 4.0 pCi/L. The median level was 3.55 pCi/L and the maximum recorded level was 46.9 pCi/L.

In Soldiers Grove-54655, of the 25 tests reported, 32 percent were above 4.0 pCi/L. The median for the tests was 2.4 pCi/L and the maximum level reported was 15.9 pCi/L.

Of the 22 tests reported in Eastman-54626, 59 percent were above the 4.0 pCi/L level. The median of the tests was 4.65 pCi/L, while the maximum level found was 44.2 pCi/L.

The 22 tests reported in Ferryville-54628 revealed similar results–54.57 percent were above the 4.0 pCi/L level and the median for the tests was 4.4  pCi/L with a maximum level of 13.9 pCi/L reported.

In Viroqua-54665, of the 314 tests reported, 57.97 percent above the 4.0 pCi/L; the median was 4.7 pCi/L; and the maxim level reported was 264.9 pCi/L.

In Viola-54664 of 39 tests done, 64.1 percent were over the 4.0 pCi/L level, the median level was 4.8 pCi/L and the maximum was 33.9 pCi/L.

In Richland Center-53581, of 248 tests taken, 36.6 percent were above 4.0 pCi/L. The median for the tests was 2.85 pCi/L and maximum level found was 83.1 pCi/L.

Boscobel-53805 had 76 tests done and 31.5 percent were above 4.0 pCi/L. The Boscobel median was 1.9 pCi/L and the maximum level found was 41 pCi/L.

Prairie du Chien-53821 reported 136 tests with 61 percent over 4.0 pCi/L. The median was 4.6 pCi/L and the maximum reported was 57.9.

Wauzeka-53826 reported 24 tests with a median of 2.45 pCi/L and a maxim of 30.9 pCi/L.

An odorless gas

Radon, an odorless, radioactive gas naturally present in the ground, enters buildings through their foundations. Radon causes more lung cancer among non-smokers than secondhand tobacco smoke.

An estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year among non-smokers are caused by radon, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Surgeon General, and approximately 962 of these deaths are in Wisconsin. The number of lung cancer deaths caused by radon is extrapolated, based on an established and accepted percentage for radon-caused lung cancer deaths among the number of all reported lung cancer deaths.

Fortunately, this cause of lung cancer is largely preventable, and the first step is to test your house or apartment for radon.

“Radon is found all over the State of Wisconsin and the only way to know if your house or apartment has elevated levels is to test,” said Jessica Maloney, State Radon Program Manager for DHS. "Reduced-cost test kits are available through Radon Information Centers (RIC) in Wisconsin and test kit promotions are happening throughout January."

The Crawford County Health Department is currently providing test kits to residents free of charge, according to Sonya Lenzendorf, the Director of the Crawford County Public Health. Lenzendorf said that public health had made test kits available at the Gays Mills Village Office.

The local testing effort continues year-round. However, an emphasis is placed on the winter months when houses are more closed to outside air and more accurate test readings can be collected. So February is as good a month to test as January, even though January is designated Radon Awareness Month.

Six-county consortium

Troy Moris, an employee of the Grant County Health Department, heads a six-county Radon Information Consortium for Southwest Wisconsin. The six counites include Crawford, Richland, Vernon, Grant, Iowa and Lafayette counties.

Moris emphasized that testing should be done at the lowest level of the residence being regularly used by people living there. He said this can be the basement if anyone regularly spends an hour or more a day in the basement.

Regular uses of the basement can include, but are not limited to, an extra bedroom. Other regular uses could include a den, a family or rec room and even an exercise area. Any use of the space for an hour or more daily means the test kit should be placed there.

The US Environmental Protection Agency recommends that when a test result is at 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher, a mitigation system should be installed to prevent the gas from entering the residence. The cost of mitigation can be a barrier for some families, and Wisconsin residents can visit to find their RIC or speak with local public health department radon experts by calling 1-888 LOW-RADON to discuss available options.

Mitigation efforts

Mitigation in a house can run from $700 to as much as $2,000, according to the DHS and more than 100 contractors in Wisconsin are certified to do radon mitigation projects.

Moris explained the radon mitigation project in a residence typically involves breaking through the cement floor of the basement and making a six to eight -inch deep hole to accommodate a PVC pipe with holes drilled in it. The pipe is fitted into the hole and travels to an exterior wall where a hole is created for the pipe to  exit. The pipe then runs alongside the house until it clears the eave. An electric fan is attached to the PVC pipe in the portion running outside of the house and sealed inside of it. The fan runs 24 hours per day every day. It’s electric cost is about $11 to $12 per month.

In states with high radon levels, new houses are required by code to have a radon mitigation system installed when the house is built. This is required in Minnesota and several western states. It is not required in Wisconsin. The cost of building a radon mitigation system into a new house is about $700, which can be considerably less than retro-fitting such a mitigation system to an existing house.

Radon test kits are also available from hardware stores. There are more than 100 radon mitigation contractors in Wisconsin that are nationally certified to install radon mitigation systems if elevated radon levels are found. Both old and newer homes can be prone to radon.

Renter’s rights

Apartments can also be at risk.  Landlords have a responsibility to provide safe living conditions to all their renters. About one third of the nation’s housing units are occupied by renters. The first step landlords can take is to understand what radon is, how to test for it, and what needs to be done to fix it if it does exist. Landlords should work with a certified radon testing and mitigation service to get started on addressing the issue for their tenants.

Effective March 1, 2023, all licensed family child care and group child care centers in Wisconsin will be required to test for radon and mitigate if levels are at or above 4 pCi/L. It is not required for licensed day camps.

More information can be found at