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Radon Poses Extra Threat for Homes in Winter Months

The threat of radon makes this the season to be wary.

The gas that can't be seen or smelled but is the second-leading cause of lung cancer — smoking is No. 1 — is a particular peril to this area at this time of year.

"A lot has to do with the geology in this area," said Jerry Weyer of Radon Reduction Specialists in Manitowoc, referring to the traces of uranium in the regional bedrock that converts to radioactive radon gas as it decays. "But houses are shut tight at this time of year — that allows the radon to be sucked into the home."

Kerri and Howard Herrild found that out when they purchased their Ledgeview house in November. A radon test revealed that the gas levels in the home were above 4 picocuries, the radiation safety standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

With a 2-year-old in the house, the Herrilds spent $600 to have a radon reduction system installed before they moved in over the Thanksgiving weekend.

"If we're going to spend the most money we've ever spent (buying a house), then we're going to have the test," Kerri Herrild said.

"It felt like a small price to pay, and it's one more insurance to keep her (daughter) healthy."

After having a radon reduction system installed, she said, the radon levels dropped to 0.04 picocuries.

Jessica Wanserski, a Manitowoc sanitarian who manages the radon information center for several counties, including Brown, said testing kits can be purchased by homeowners who want to check for radon levels.

She said anyone purchasing a house should require a radon test before closing.

"If the house is closed up, the furnace is on and you're losing hot air, the house can be sucking in more soil gas through cracks in the foundation," Wanserski said. "And we know that there's a correlation between geology and the levels of radon."

In Brown County, houses in De Pere and Ledgeview have shown the highest levels of radon, according to statistics tracked by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Last year, 280 residences in the 54115 ZIP code area were found to have levels of radon above the 4 picocuries level.

A big problem with radon poisoning is that there are few symptoms. The radioactive particles get trapped in the lungs and damage the lung tissue, eventually leading to lung cancer.

It is particularly dangerous to smokers.

But most people don't test for radon, Weyer said.

"It's something that people can very easily sweep under the rug, because a lot of people don't want to know they have it, especially when they're buying or selling," he said.

"Right now, they've been thinking about Christmas."

The EPA estimates that 1 of every 15 homes in the United States have elevated levels of radon.

The federal agency has designated January as National Radon Action Month and predicts that, without action, 15,000-22,000 deaths will occur in the U.S. in 2011 from exposure to the gas.

To view this article, visit http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/article/20101227/GPG0101/12270514/Radon-poses-extra-threat-for-homes-in-winter-months.