Odorless, tasteless, potentially deadly

Radon gas study under way in some Marshall County residences

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS
MICA Housing Director Terri Tague has recently installed multiple radon gas sensors in a handful of Marshall County homes as part of a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study. The sensors will relay radon levels via Wi-Fi to researchers at the university.

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS MICA Housing Director Terri Tague has recently installed multiple radon gas sensors in a handful of Marshall County homes as part of a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study. The sensors will relay radon levels via Wi-Fi to researchers at the university.

Radon is a potentially dangerous gas that can be found in many Iowa homes, and it cannot be seen, smelled or tasted; Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA) is helping to facilitate a study on the radioactive gas in Marshall County homes.

“We were really interested in participating in this study because weatherization, nationally and locally, is data-driven,” said MICA Housing Director Terri Tague, who installed radon sensors in a handful of Marshall County homes late last week. “There hasn’t been a lot of good information about radon that is applicable to our program.”

The non-profit agency’s weatherization program is designed to help reduce families’ utility costs and increase energy efficiency. MICA is using the program to help facilitate the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) BARRIER Expansion Study on weatherization and radon levels in homes.

“Along with energy efficiency measures, weatherization programs install measures for health and safety, including some that are intended to limit radon migration into homes,” said Senior Research Engineer Paul Francisco of the UIUC Applied Research Center. “This study is aimed at quantifying the impact that the package of measures that (a)ffect radon are having on radon.”

The study is also taking place in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Colorado, he said, adding the study may be completed by late 2019.

Tague said one sensor is placed in the lowest living space in each home, and a second may be installed if there is a level further down, such as a basement not used as a living space.

“It’s a continuous monitor for radon,” Tague said after installing one of the sensors, roughly the size of a car battery, into a State Center residence Friday. “It picks up the different shifts, depending on moisture and wind.”

Radon is produced from decaying uranium found in the soil, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It builds up in houses and other buildings through cracks and holes in the foundation after seeping up through the ground.

Tague said the study is under way just as many Marshall County residents are closing their windows and shutting their houses off from the cold weather outside.

“[Researchers] prefer to do it (the study) in the winter, when your house is closed,” Tague said of the Iowa portion of the study.

Francisco said measuring for radon could give homeowners an opportunity to reduce levels of the gas. Radon has been linked to lung cancer in smokers and non-smokers.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa has the largest percentage of homes above the EPA’s “action level” of radon, at 71.6 percent.

The American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest’s Health House website shows that the state’s average indoor radon concentration is more than six times the national average. The site also states that there are about 400 radon-related deaths per year in Iowa, similar to the 402 traffic fatalities recorded in 2016 by the Iowa Department of Transportation.

Those not participating in the University of Illinois study can still monitor their homes for the gas. The Iowa Radon Hotline can be reached at 1-800-383-5992, and callers can order radon test kits and ask questions about the gas.

For more information on radon in Iowa, visit www.idph.iowa.gov/radon or www.healthhouse.org/ia_radon/cfm

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com