Even as Radon Action Month wraps up this week, four neighboring communities will continue their efforts to remind people of the importance of looking for the odorless, colorless gas that can cause health problems.
Both Oak Creek and Hales Corners conducted campaigns in January encouraging people to pick up free radon kits. Greendale and Franklin have also done so in recent years, but this year are taking other actions to fight radon locally.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from trace amounts of uranium in the ground. The gas can seep into homes through the foundation and neighboring homes can have different elevated levels of radon, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, which estimates that 5 to 10 percent of the homes in Wisconsin have elevated levels of radon.
The gas has been identified as the second-leading cause of lung cancer.
"This is a wake-up call," Debra Persak, Hales Corners health officer, said in a press release.
Granting a testing tool
Hales Corners health officials strongly encouraged people to test for radon because elevated radon levels have been found in 63 percent of the homes tested, based on numbers from the Radon Information Center in Waukesha.
One tool the communities have used is a state grant from the Radon Information Center and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, which encourages residents to test their homes during winter months.
Oak Creek and Hales Corners used the grant to offer the kits for free in January. The kits provide information on how to collect the sample and mail to a certified laboratory. To obtain kits or get more information locally, residents of single-family homes can call (414) 529-6155 in Hales Corners or (414) 768-6525 in Oak Creek.
The kits are also available from other sources - including hardware stores and from the state - for a nominal fee of between $10 and $15, depending on the type of kit.
Ongoing Greendale outreach
Even in places not offering free kits this month, radon isn't a forgotten topic.
In Greendale, which used state grants in 2009 and 2010 to get kits into people's basements, the results suggest local homeowners who haven't already tested their homes should consider doing so now.
Sue Shepeard, health officer for the Greendale Village Health Department, said testing results in two-year period involving 106 testing units sent to the state for analysis showed that better than half had concentrations of radon higher than 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L), above the level considered safe.
"What this says is that there is a lot of radon in Greendale," Shepeard said. "You can have radon in one residence and not in the next one. You can't assume that you do or don't have it. You have to do the test."
Generally, if an initial test shows radon levels at between 4 and 7.9 pCi/L, officials recommend a retest, she said. Those above 8 pCi/L, however, suggest the need for immediate "remediation."
Franklin's targeted efforts
Franklin has also used state grants, but with a different slant.
The city has targeted different population groups in different years, said Bill Wucherer, Franklin health officer. For instance, in 2010, the target group was people who built new homes. This year, it's families with toddlers and preschoolers.
Essentially, to fulfill the grant requirement, the city must reach at least 50 people each year, so it tries to get the attention of people who might not be thinking of radon testing - like people "who had built new homes with the idea they had more pressing issues like putting in a lawn."
The city typically sends postcards to target groups encouraging them to pick up testing kits.
"At the same time we are promoting radon testing so for $6 people can come in and get radon test kits," Wucherer said.
Other info sources
Aside from local health departments, officials list other places people can get authoritative information on radon.
On the Wisconsin Department of Health Service's website - at www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/dph_beh/radonprot - the information includes tips on reducing radon in homes, a list of nationally certified contractors, and guidelines for building new homes that will help prevent or slow radon entry into a home.
The state's Radon Information Center, which has a library of radon material and sells radon testing kits, is located at 515 W. Moreland Blvd., Room AC260, Waukesha. It is staffed by Paul Tellier, groundwater program coordinator, who can be reached by phone at (262) 896-8300.
"The nice part of the Radon Information Center is that there are experts who can give a resident or any homeowner instruction on how to interpret the results, if they should or should not repeat a test, and if those tests show they really should do some remediation," Shepeard said.
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