You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 6 a.m.

The dangers of radon and how to make your home safer

By Keith A. Paul

Family in front of home.jpg

Photo by

I heard of the dangers of radon in one’s home, but how can I check to ensure my family is safe? My second question is, if we do have high levels, can it be removed?

-Sheri L. Ann Arbor, MI

Hi Sheri:

Thanks for your interest and great questions. Writing a column devoted to home improvement has many benefits to me; the most rewarding is when a question asked such as yours can possibly save the lives of other readers in our community.

Radon is colorless, odorless and a tasteless gas that comes from the natural radioactive decay of radium and uranium found in the ground beneath your home. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Washtenaw County, along with other neighboring counties, has the highest potential for the existence of radon gas in Michigan. (map)

Since radon is a carcinogen and the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers in America, the EPA suggests all homes should be tested for radon. Radon levels can be tested by either using a “do-it-yourself” kit or employing professional radon testing services. Radon is measured in terms of picocuries per liter of air or (pCi/l). If your home has radon levels higher than 4 pCi/l, the EPA recommends that you take action to lower the levels.

Radon Map.jpg

Chart by

If you choose to be a “handyman” and test the levels yourself, follow the instructions carefully to ensure accurate measurements.

 Angie Parsons, environmental educator for Washtenaw County Environmental Health, says, “This is one of the ways we can control the potential of cancer. We have two types of home radon level tests — short-term ($10) or long term ($20) radon test level kit."

The tests are available at 705 N. Zeeb Road in Scio Township.

Parsons suggests that for best results, test in the winter while the home is in “closed conditions,” where the doors and windows are closed. Visit for more information.

Mathew W. Koche, president of Mold Quest International in Canton, whose company offers professional radon testing services, advises homeowners retest any home that is close to the danger level of 4 pCi/l, because radon is not constant.

“We have seen higher levels in Washtenaw County, but the good news is that there are procedures to help lower levels of radon in homes.” Koche says.

If your home has elevated radon levels, there are relatively inexpensive ways to lower the radon levels. Lowering the levels of radon, called radon “mitigation,” can be accomplished by sealing the cracks and crevices in your basement’s foundation. There are professional Radon mitigation contractors who can assist you. They can be found at the National Environmental Health Association’s website,

One of the methods called “sub slab depressurization” has proven to be effective. It lowers the levels by installing a vent pipe through the basement to the exterior of the house, thus drawing out the radon. According to the EPA, some radon reduction methods can reduce the radon levels in your home by up to 99 percent.

Radon is a serious health risk, but can be controlled relatively inexpensively. Why not test it? I plan to in my home.

Keith Paul is a State of Michigan Licensed Builder. Paul serves as President and founding member of Nationally franchised HandyPro Handyman Service, servicing Washtenaw, Wayne and Oakland Counties ( Listen to Keith Paul every Saturday at 11 a.m. on “It’s Your Home, Let’s Talk About It” WAAM Talk 1600AM. Email questions or comments to



Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 7:50 p.m.

I just found this site/topic and must state that every time I read anything on Radon for the past 32 years, I get a huge smile. The reason is the same, every article address the hazards of Radon but fails to explain why radon enters a home. Lets discuss science. First Radon has a molecular weight of 222 g/mol which is heavier then air. Therefore, the reason Radon enters a home is because it is PUSHED into the home! So the only way to STOP Radon from entering a home is to STOP the homes inside air from leaving! Since it is impossible to stop inside air from leaving a home (Note this is also the reason a home has drafts) one must control where outside air reenters the home. (i.e. how many ways are there to add gas to your automobile?) If we now understand that air moves for a pressure difference (called Delta P) and travels by the path of least resistance, so to stop Radon from entering your home provide and control where and how outside air is Pushed into your home. Furthermore, it is unconscionable for anyone (including the EPA) to suggest that you Seal your home and then test it for Radon. We all know that Air-Tight houses aggravate indoor pollution problems (Radon); Detroit Free Press March 16, 1985. So to improve your Indoor Air Quality & Quantity, just Open a Window above ground level, to allow outside air to enter your home to replace the inside air that is leaving, and reduce Radon Levels. Its FREE! To prove this run the Radon test in the summer with the windows open and in the winter with an Open Window and compare the results. DA!


Tue, Nov 16, 2010 : 1:17 p.m.

Keith Thanks for this important article regarding radon in homes and lung cancer risk. As someone who has been doing radon testing as part of my home inspection business for over 20 years, I believe I have a few points that can be helpful to the public. When testing for radon and hiring a professional using a continuous radon monitor, I strongly recommend having the company perform the test for 3 or 4 days, not the typical 2 days that is the "standard". Yes, that the meets the absolute minimum EPA standard, but since radon levels can fluctuate a lot, why not do a higher quality test that gives you better information. I have heard radon testers tell their clients that "they passed", when the radon level was 3.9 pCi/l. There is no pass when it comes to radiation exposure. The lower the better. The EPA says to remediate your home when the level is 4.0, but also says to consider remediating when the level is from 2 to 3.9 pCi/l. In fact, the EPA states that there is a 1 in a 1,000 chance of dying from lung cancer at 2.0 pCi/l lifetime exposure. Since the average level in Washtenaw county is over 4 pCi/l, everyone should test. If you want to test yourself, first read up on exactly how to do it so that it will be accurate. Don't forget about closing fireplace dampers tightly, making sure ALL windows in the house are closed even when testing in the lowest potential living space (NOT the crawl space or a Michigan basement with real low ceilings). Also, this closed building procedure must be started 12 hours before beginning the testing. If using charcoal canisters for short term testing, use at least 2. And follow up with a one year long term test, unless your level is over 20pCi/l (or 10pCi/l if 20 makes you too uncomfortable). Cost for remediation typically varies from $700-$800, rarely going over. As for the ridiculous assertion that radon levels are higher in wealthier demographic areas, then why are radon levels lower in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills than here. And they are very low in Huntington Woods. Hope this is helpful Bobby Frank RJ Frank Home Inspections 910 Spring Street Ann Arbor MI 48103 734-994-4900

Keith A. Paul

Mon, Nov 15, 2010 : 10:07 a.m.

Great input everyone. Hi dextermom - The EPA suggests all homes be tested for radon. I would assume that you don't use the basement as living space, therefore it's best to test the 1st floor living space according to the Washtenaw County Environmental Health Dept. If the levels are high and because there are different ways to remove radon from a dirt floor basement, you'll need to have an inspection from a professional contractor to determine the best ways to lower the levels. Hope this helps.


Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 10:24 p.m.

Thanks for the responses. Kind of embarrassed. I had tried several times. Finally figured out what was wrong. I was cutting and pasting and included the last "." so it wouldn't go through. Have enjoyed the information. Has anyone dealt with a Michigan basement? I assume with a dirt floor the level will be high and I don't want to pour cement.


Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 9:14 p.m.

I enjoyed reading Keith's comments. I agree that radon increases your risk of lung cancer, and when this risk is applied to a large population,the numbers are impressive. News reports can be misleading this way. I recommend looking at report published by the National Research Council's Committee on Health Risks of Exposure to Radon (BEIR VI). It can be read without charge at Some findings of this report, published in 1999, are: 1. Smoking incurs a much higher risk of lung cancer than radon. 2. The effects are synergistic. The BEIR VI "central estimate" of lung cancer deaths due to radon in the US is 15400 to 21800. However the estimate for "never smokers" is 2100 to 2900 per year. (Thus, imho: (1) if you're a smoker, quitting is far more important than radon remediation, and (2) if you're not a smoker, the negligible risk makes remediation an unattractive use of scarce funds.) It is also important to keep in mind that these estimates are all based on a linear, no threshold model. Thus, reducing radon exposure below the guidelines will probably reduce, but not eliminate the risk. There is no way to completely eliminate the risk, and at some point, the money spent is much higher than that spent to reduce other comparable risks of life. Having said that, I would recommend that, if someone is really concerned about this risk, probably from seeing all of the alarmist "public service" announcements, it may be worthwhile to spend the money on remediation, if just to achieve peace of mind. Here's to a risk free world, and other fantasies.

Keith A. Paul

Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 6:48 p.m.

It may have been what Top Cat was referring to the statement of "Radon risks are based on extrapolation from high level exposures". It was possibly true when the book by Leonard A. Cole was written in 1993, however there are more resent studies. Study based from the University of Iowa, Hospitals and Clinics 2005 show's increased risk levels of radon in as little as 3 pCi/l. That is lower than the EPA's action level of 4 pCi/l. for more information visit. This link can also be found on the EPA website Study. Not sure how protecting your home from radon is a political conspiracy? True - you have to disclose radon if found in your home. I am curious on the effect of one's homes value will have if radon mitigation has been installed and retest's levels are at almost undetectable? I'd buy it.


Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 3:58 p.m.

I'm curious to know why "Top Cat" feels that, "Most of doctorbill's post is nonsense." I said: You should read the Cole book before taking action on radon. Radon risks are based on extrapolation from high level exposures. Radon toxicity at low exposure levels has not been proven. If you test your home for radon, you'll have to report the results when you sell your house. Radon is a Republican issue, since it enables one to seem environmentally concerned, while the burden falls on the homeowner, not corporations. Exactly which of these statements does "Top Cat" think is "nonsense"?

Bertha Venation

Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 2:09 p.m.

Sure am glad I insisted on having a Radon test when I bought my house in 2004. Radon level was at 13+, and they had kids playing in the basement! Sellers paid for corrections, thank goodness.

Keith A. Paul

Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 11:13 a.m.

According to Washtenaw County Environmental Health on radon mitigation - "The typical cost of a having a radon mitigation system installed in Washtenaw County is $800 - $1200."

Atticus F.

Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 11:06 a.m.

I heard that the testers are in kahoots with the radon removal services... and that the reason this county test so high for radon, is for the simple fact that the numbers are based on corrupt data by radon detection companies. You will notice this 'high radon' trend all over the country in wealthier demographics, especially where there are alot of sub divisions. The testers are essentially fleecing more affluent areas with the fear of cancer. They come in with a tester, tell you that your family is in danger, and then refer you to a removal company.

Top Cat

Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 11:02 a.m.

Most of doctorbill's post is nonsense. When I moved to Michigan from New Jersey 20+ years ago, no one here had a clue what radon was and the potential danger. It is easy to test for and if the results are high, not that expensive to fix. It is a fairly recent problem from the 1970s when people began sealing their homes to become more energy efficient therefore trapping the radon gas.

Keith A. Paul

Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 10:08 a.m.

HI Dextermom, The email in the last paragraph comes directly to me only. I answer many questions from that email or the comment section below and would be glad to help in any way. I also can be reached at 734-254-9160. Thanks, I apologize for any the confusion. kp


Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 10:06 a.m.

Before taking any action on radon, I recommend looking at the book, "Element of Risk: The Politics of Radon," by Leonard A. Cole. The alleged risks of radon are based on extrapolations from high level exposures, such as uranium miners. This group tended to be heavy smokers, and it's known that smoking is synergistic with radon for producing lung cancer. The radon risks have never been proven for the low levels found in homes that are close to the "safe" levels. Before testing your home for radon, be prepared to spend a lot on remediation, since the test results will have to be disclosed when you sell your house. Radon became an issue during the Reagan administration. It's the perfect Republican environmental issue, since it makes them appear environmentally concerned, while the financial burden falls on the homeowner, not corporations.


Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 9:43 a.m.

There is a company based right here in Ann Arbor that tests for and installs radon mitigation systems. It is Probe Environmental on Jackson Road, phone 734-663-4423.


Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 8:30 a.m.

Sure would have been nice to email questions or comments to kpaul. I only get the company. I haven't had much luck with companies and MI basements. I was hoping he could help.