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Cooler weather brings best time to test for radon gas

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A typical radon test kit can cost $10-$15. It doesn’t monitor regularly, but taks a “snapshot” approach to radon presence.

Cooler temperatures make fall and winter a good time to test your home for harmful radon gas. Radon is a colorless, odorless and radioactive gas caused by the natural breakdown of rocks and soils that contain uranium and radium. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, immediately after smoking.

“Testing in Missouri has shown that all counties have radon and 18 percent of all homes have radon levels above the level considered dangerous,” explains Bob Schultheis, natural resource engineering specialist with University of Missouri Extension. “Not every house has radon, but the EPA recommends that every house is tested because the levels can vary between neighboring houses.”

Energy-efficient or poorly-ventilated homes are more likely to have higher radon levels, said Schultheis. This is because radon enters the home through cracks and openings in floors and walls and through floor drains and sumps.

“The best time to test your home for radon is during cooler weather when it is 60 degrees or less. The house should be closed up at least 12 hours before and during the test,” says Schultheis.

The most common radon detectors are charcoal canisters and alpha-track detectors. The charcoal canister units are used for short-term testing. A positive result from a short-term test is no immediate cause for panic. A long-term test (three to 12 months) using an alpha-track detector to verify continuous exposure levels should follow it.

A short-term detector is available free for $10-$30 at major hardware stores and home improvement centers. You can also contact the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

If you do discover the presence of radon, Schultheis advises, spend less time in high-concentration areas, such as basements. Don’t smoke, and when practical, ventilate the living area. It is also a good idea to keep crawl-space vents open year-round and seal all floor and wall cracks.

For more information, call the Missouri Radon Information Helpline at 866-628-9891, or go online. Ask your county University of Missouri Extension center for MU Guide G1968, “Radon: An Indoor Health Hazard?”, or go online to

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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