Silent but Deadly

by Kate Branum

You can’t see it, smell it or taste it, but it may be lurking in your home.

Radon, an odorless, invisible gas, is a naturally occurring substance that has the potential to cause serious illness. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, this silent, unwelcome guest is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers in America and claims more than 21,000 lives each year. Radon is a radioactive gas emitted as a result of decaying uranium present in nearly all soils. It seeps up through cracks and other holes found in your home’s foundation, which means new and old houses alike are at risk for radon exposure. The scariest part? There are no noticeable symptoms from radon gas.

Fortunately, there are ways to detect and combat radon gas–here are a few steps you can take to protect your and your family’s health:

Pick up a Home Test

Chances are, your local county health department has readily-available radon testing kits for sale at the environmental department front desk. These incredibly affordable and simple home tests are easy to use and can be conducted during any season. Before hanging the small, paper sampler in your house, be sure all external doors, windows and vents have been closed for at least 12 hours. Determine the lowest area of the house that is used on a regular basis and place the sampler there, leaving it undisturbed for at least three days, but no longer than seven days. After the testing period has been completed, remove the sampler, seal it back up in the envelope provided in the kit and send it back into the health department. In about two weeks, you’ll receive your results in the mail.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Your results came back positive for high levels of radon–now what? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends conducting a follow-up test before taking any measures to fix the problem. Sometimes, unusual weather conditions can cause a sudden and temporary spike in radon levels surrounding your home. Hang a second sampler in the same place as the first and wait patiently for a second round of results, or consider hiring a professional to conduct a test this time around.

Mitigate Your Home

If the new results read the same as the first, it’s time to take the next step. Find a qualified radon mitigation contractor in your area to help you determine the appropriate radon reduction method. Some radon reduction systems can decrease radon levels by 99 percent and generally costs fewer than $1,500 to install, depending on the size and design of your home. Another common radon remedy is soil depressurization, or ASD. This cost-effective and reliable technique involves capturing the radon hiding beneath your home before it can enter through the use of a venting system that draws the gas away from windows and other home openings.

Don’t Wait

Just because your results came back negative doesn’t mean you can’t take precautionary measures. Consider looking into a radon reduction system to prevent any potential radon gases from entering your house. Professional contractors can perform a soil suction technique on the ground beneath and around your house to draw out any existing radon gas and vent it through one or multiple pipes to the air above the roof where it will be quickly diluted. Similar to a furnace or chimney, radon reduction systems need occasional maintenance. Check the warning device strapped to the system regularly to ensure that it’s working properly. It is recommended to replace radon reduction system fans every 5 years and retest your home every 2 years.

This catastrophic carcinogen plagues thousands of unsuspecting residents each year. Encourage family and friends to read up on the health risks of radon and pick up a test of their own.

Local Options 

Get your hands on a radon test at your local health department.

The Kent County Health Department  has testing kits available in the from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for a reasonable $5 per kit at each of it’s locations.
Main location: 700 Fuller Ave. NE, Grand Rapids
North County Clinic: 4388 14 Mile Road NE, Rockford
South Clinic: 4700 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, Kentwood

Additionally, you can pick up a radon testing kit at your local hardware store, including Rylee’s ACE Hardware (1205 Fulton St. W, Grand Rapids).


Kate Branum

Aside from studying journalism at Grand Valley State University and interning at WLM, Kate Branum enjoys writing, reading and all things art. Reach out to her at:



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