Radon levels are often highest in a home’s lowest area. Testing the basement is a good place to start, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. (For Health Beat)

Radon is a naturally occurring, odorless, tasteless and colorless radioactive gas.

It’s also the No. 1 cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, according to Environmental Protection Agency, and it’s the second-leading cause of lung cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s why it’s important to test your house for radon regularly and, if the gas is detected, take steps to protect your family.

The initial test is simple and relatively inexpensive, Rusty Flewelling, a supervising sanitarian with Kent County Health Department, said.

A radon test kit includes an envelope with material inside that absorbs radon in the air. The material is then mailed to a specified lab for testing.

“When you do a test, timing is important,” Flewelling said.

The best time to test is usually November to March, as homeowners keep doors and windows closed in colder months.

“We want to test when the gas buildup is most likely to be the worst,” he said. “During warmer times, people may have their homes more open and the radon gas escapes without being detected.”

In January, Kent County Health Department provides free testing kits to Kent County residents, Flewelling said. The test kits are also available for purchase throughout the year from the Health Department.

Fix the problem

If a test indicates the presence of radon, the next step is to vent the gas out of the house and seal cracks in the home’s walls and basement or crawl space.

Radon gas is found in some types of soil and it’s very fluid. It’s constantly looking for a way out, and that’s why it will enter a house through the basement cracks and move upward, Flewelling said.

“You should funnel the gas out of the house and then seal all of the possible cracks,” he said. “Radon looks for the path of least resistance, so a hole in the floor with piping leading outside may be enough to remove the gas.”

Sometimes, he said, sump pumps are the entry point. In that case, cover the sump pump hole and install a pipe leading gas out of the house.

To properly vent and seal cracks, you may likely need to contact a company that specializes in this work. Homeowners should not tackle the job themselves, Flewelling said.

A company may charge several hundred dollars or more to remedy the issue, but it will improve air quality in your home.

“Knowing radon is such a high contributor to lung cancer, I think it’s cheaper in the long run,” Flewelling said.

‘Test every year or two’

Radon is not found in all soils, but it’s also not uncommon, Flewelling said. In Kent County, and generally throughout Michigan, the soil is considered a moderate to light area for radon gas.

“I do believe, as we get further south in the state, the radon levels will increase—but I don’t know the exact reason,” he said.

Radon is deceptive, Flewelling said. A test may come up negative, but that doesn’t mean there is no radon in the soil around your basement or crawl space. The gas can develop later, or it may escape the home.

“That’s why it is advisable to test every year or two,” he said. “Your house may be solidly built now, but over time it may settle—and cracks will develop in the cement that touches the soil.”

Homeowners can also install an electronic monitoring device, similar to a carbon monoxide detector. While test kits are accurate, the monitor gives faster results.

Flewelling said state leaders are discussing possible legislation to update residential building codes, which may improve monitoring.

“Radon is such a dangerous health hazard,” Flewelling said. “No amount is good for you. So it’s important to test for it in your home and, if you find it, get rid of it.”