Radon testing in your home could save your life

A rare case of harmful levels of radon gas in a Thurston County home has been documented by an East Olympia homeowner and state health officials.

It raises a question about whether the naturally occurring, radioactive gas is present in other homes in the county.

The only way to answer the question is for homeowners to test their homes. Radon test kits are available at most home improvement stores for $25 or less.

“Testing is a worthwhile thing to do,” said Mike Brennan, a radiation health physicist at the state Department of Health.

Radon is an odorless gas and a known carcinogen, linked to some 22,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States. But it has been rarely reported present in homes in the Puget Sound region, let alone South Sound. In this state, it’s most commonly detected in the Spokane area and other places in Eastern Washington and in the Vancouver vicinity.

It’s usually found in geologic zones that are dominated by granite and basalt rock formations and enters the home through basements and crawl spaces.

Fortunately, it is relatively simple to reduce exposure to radon gas. In a new home under construction, it costs about $200 to install a system that vents the gas away from the home.

It is more expensive to retrofit a home with a radon gas exhaust system — roughly $2,000.

That’s what Jeff and Traci Schultz did at their home on Diagonal Road Southeast last week after learning that radon levels are six times higher in their basement and two times higher in their bedroom than the safe exposure limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Jeff Schultz decided to test his home, which was build in 2002, after reading an article in Consumer Reports magazine that recommended people test their homes for radon.

Much to the couple’s surprise the readings exceeded the EPA standard. Just to be sure, they tested again and confirmed the presence of radon at unsafe levels in the home.

It’s still not clear why the readings were so high, Brennan said.

But this much is certain. Other homeowners in South Sound would be well-served to test their homes, too.