Why Should I Care about Radon?

Thursday, January 12, 2012 - 6:49am

What you Don't Know and Can't See Can Hurt You

If you found out that there was a chance that the air in your home was polluted by a completely odorless and colorless gas that could damage your lungs and give you lung cancer, you would probably want to know more about it. The gas in question is called radon, and given that this is a month when we normally spend much more time indoors it is a particularly good time to learn more about it.

The soil in our area contains an unevenly distributed and generally small amount of uranium, the same mineral that is mined for fueling nuclear power plants. When uranium starts breaking down in soil, rock or water, one of the byproducts of this breakdown is radon gas. If your house is built on soil that contains some uranium, this radioactive gas can seep through cracks, sump pumps and other openings in basement floors and walls.

The EPA estimates that radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year in the U.S. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked. If you do smoke and your home has elevated radon levels, your risk of lung cancer goes up even more. The bad news is that about 40% of the homes tested in Dane County in 2010 have levels of radon that are considered unsafe. The good news is that this problem does have solutions.

But first, you have to find out if you have a radon problem and the best way to do that is a radon test. In fact the Environmental Production Agency (EPA) and the Surgeon General of the United States recommends that the test be done in the living area of your home where your family spends most of their time.

The testing procedure is very simple. It involves buying a test kit, which is very small, setting it up in the living area following the instructions, leaving it in place for the amount of time indicated, and then sending the kit back in a self-addressed pre-paid mailer. The lab will send you easy to read results within a week or two, or even earlier if you provide your email address.

Testing is inexpensive. Mail in test kits generally cost less than $25 at local hardware stores. Kits are also available through Public Health for $10.00 per kit. (See below for detailed information).

If testing shows that you do have a radon problem, you will need to install a system that gets the radon out of your home. Such systems should be installed by a qualified contractor. According to Janice Block Banks, Public Health Radon Specialist, "While the cost of fixing this problem can seem high (typically $800-$1,200) it is a real bargain when weighed against removing the threat of lung cancer from your home".

This is why Public Health joins the EPA every January by using National Radon Action Month as an opportunity to remind the public that it pays to take action against this invisible and preventable threat to the health of your family.

For more information regarding radon, including a list of qualified radon remediation contractors, visit the Wisconsin Radon Information Web site at:


For more background on radon see the following link:

To purchase a test kit, please call the Public Health's Environmental Health Office at (608) 243-0330. To talk to Public Health's radon specialist, call (608) 243-0321 or contact the South Central Radon Information Center at (608) 243-0392.

Now is the perfect time to test your home for radon and make sure that your family is protected against this invisible threat to their long term health.


Public Health Madison & Dane County


  • Jeff Golden(608) 243-0302