by Meghan Dooley and Deb Havens
While something like cigarette smoking is easy to detect as a cancer causing agent in your home, something less obvious is radon gas. It’s a radioactive gas that comes from the soil and is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.
“[Radon] makes its way into your home through the foundation,” owner of Radon Control Services Patrick Bird says.
Spectrum Health Plumonary Critical Care Physician Glenn Van Otteran says 10% of the lung cancer causes they see at the Spectrum Health clinic are radon related. “We can only make estimates, but I would say about 30-40 [cases] a year are related to radon exposure.”
The Environmental Protection Agency’s website identifies areas with the highest risk as located in southern Michigan; Kent County and other inland counties have a mild risk; and the lake shore areas face even less likely risk. However, owner of Buyer’s Home Inspection Branden Vanderhoof says that doesn’t mean the radon problem isn’t prevalent in West Michigan.
“ [Radon exposure] can change over time, so it’s suggested that you test every couple of years,” Vanderhoof said. “Some parts around the Grand Rapids area there is a lot more than other parts.”
Vanderhoof explains that about one of every three homes in the Grandville and Jenison areas may detect radon in their homes, whereas only 1 out of every 20 homes are threatened in other areas of the state.
Vanderhoof says that avoiding radon in your home is almost impossible, but there are several ways you can protect yourself from the deadly gas. The first step is to get your home tested, which you can do yourself. Pick up your own testing kit at your local health department for a minimal fee.
If you’re selling your home and looking for quick, credible results, Vanderhoof says hire a pro, called a “mitigator.” Owner of Radon Control Services Patrick Bird says “Unfortunately there are some who don’t take any steps forward and of course that’s where your elevated health risks come into effect.”
Because radon can cause lung cancer, people who find high rates of radon in their homes may want to check on their health as well.
Dr. VanOtteran says there are no specific tests to indicate whether someone has gotten lung cancer from radon exposure-but different types of cancerous cells provide clues. Rates of exposure can also play into increased risk.
“Studies indicate that your risk of getting cancer related to radon exposure is related to not only to the dose of radon exposure, but the duration,” Dr. VanOtteran said. “Typically, that’s over many years.”
Vanderhoof says the number one way to avoid any health risks is to have your home tested and significant rates of radon gas mitigated with a system that’s typically installed in your basement.