This story originally appeared in the August 2009 issue of
When Laverne and Steve Street bought their Glen Ellyn home in
2006, their Realtor told them not to worry about radon, a
colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that seeps into homes through
cracks in the foundation.
Once inside, the gas builds up and becomes hazardous to breathe:
it's the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers, claiming
nearly 20,000 lives annually. While the Environmental Protection
Agency considers the near Chicago counties at a moderate risk for
radon, 42 percent of homes tested throughout Illinois showed
dangerously elevated levels.
Nine times denser than air, radon settles to the lowest part of
your home, usually the basement. The Streets planned to use theirs
as a play area for their children. So in September 2007, they
bought a hardware store test kit and discovered a radon level of
5.7 picoCuries per liters of air. The EPA considers anything above
4 pCi/L a definite health risk, but urges homeowners to install a
radon mitigation system in levels above 2 pCi/L.
The byproduct of decaying uranium, the average radon reading
outdoors is point 7 pCi/L.
While studies have not shown children at a greater risk for
radon exposure, its cumulative affects should worry parents. "It's
more about higher levels for longer periods of time that's the
concern," says Dr. D. Kyle Hogarth, who specializes in the
prevention and diagnosis of lung cancer at the University of
Chicago Medical Center. "It is one of those components of making
sure you are doing what you can to minimize exposure to your kids,
along with the other things such as smoking avoidance."
Home sellers must disclose known radon, but they aren't required
to test. So Realtor Marina Burman of Jean Wright Real Estate in
Winnetka encourages home buyers to test for radon. "They don't have
to, but it's the best (money) they'll ever spend," she says.
During real estate transactions, only tests conducted by
licensed radon testers are valid. A home buyer's expense, a
professional radon test lasts 48 hours and costs about $225.
Regardless of a home's age, it has radon to some degree.
"There's no direct correlation between the age of the home and
radon levels," says Hy Naiditch, CRI, president of ACCUspect Home
Inspection Services in Skokie. While most home buyers conduct a
basic home inspection, Naiditch says only 15 percent of his clients
request a radon test. "One of the biggest misperceptions is that
this area doesn't have radon. You can have two side by side houses
(with different readings)," he says.
With borderline readings Naiditch recommends retesting for peace
of mind or conducting a long-term test, which lasts 90 days, at a
later date. Though it won't fall in the timeframe of a typical real
estate transaction, a long-term test gives the most accurate
If you have high levels, a radon mitigation contractor licensed
by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency can install a sub-slab
depressurization system to bring your indoor air quality back to
healthy levels. Ranging from $900 to $2,500, the system uses a PVC
pipe drilled into your foundation and a continuously operating fan
to suck and vent the radon beneath your home outside, above the
eaves. During a real estate deal, the cost to mitigate falls to the
Do-it-yourself homeowners can first try sealing off any entry
points, such as floor drains and sump pumps. "It's very tough to
get every little crack because it's a gas and can easily go around
those sealed points. You can do it to your best ability. But
ultimately, if the levels get high enough, you're going to have to
mitigate," says Eric Lewencowski, owner of Professional Radon
Systems in Aurora. "The only way to get rid of it is to vent
Lewencowski says his company strives to get the radon as close
to outdoor levels as possible, and like all mitigation companies
guarantees that radon levels will never exceed 4 picoCuries. The
EPA recommends you retest your home every two years, or after home
renovations, such as a basement remodel or new addition. A side
benefit to a mitigation system: it also removes moisture that
causes mold and mildew.
Finding out your home has radon doesn't decrease its value, says
Burman, a certified real estate appraiser. "Years ago if a house
tested positive for radon, typically the deal would fall apart
because people would be so freaked out," she says "Now Realtors are
educating their buyers and it's not a reason for a deal to fall
apart because it's so easily fixed."
Today the Streets breathe easy. After installing a mitigation
system, their radon reading is just point 1. "The fact that I could
eliminate one proven cause of a cancer was all I needed to know,"
says Laverne Street.
Rita Colorito, a freelance writer specializing in home,
health and parenting, lives in Glen Ellyn.
Freelance journalist Rita Colorito brings you the latest health news in Chicago Parent’s Health Page.
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