Radon testing, mitigation system helps improves health in homes
David and Michelle Kreuter of Hillcrest Drive unknowingly lived with the highest recorded levels of radon in the county for nine years until they tested their home in January.
While listening to the radio, the couple learned that more radon, which is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, dwells in the homes of Iowans than anywhere else in the country. The news sparked concern for the health of their sons, 7-year-old Aiden, and Archer, 5.
“I didn’t like thinking of their little lungs being exposed to something they can’t handle,” said Michelle Kreuter, who works in Ottumwa as a speech pathologist.
“I decided testing would be a good idea since Iowa is the leading state in radon,” said David Kreuter, a physical therapist at Jefferson County Health Center.
The Kreuters picked up a free test kit at the Jefferson County Environmental Health Department. The couple discovered they had 43 picocuries per liter of radon in their home, 10 times more than the 4.0 picocuries per liter the Environmental Protection Agency deems harmful to health.
Radon is a naturally-occurring gas produced by decaying uranium in soil caused by glacial activity. The Iowa Department of Public Health estimates about 70 percent of Iowa homes contain high levels of the toxic gas, which enters buildings through cracks in walls and foundations.
“With the exposure level we were at, it was like we were smoking cigarettes,” she said.
Because of the test, the Kreuters installed a radon mitigation system in their home and now have a reading of less than 1 picocuries per liter.
Jefferson County Sanitarian Dan Miller, who provided the Kreuters the free radon kit, said testing is the first step to reducing the approximately 21,000 radon-induced lung cancer deaths in the U.S. every year, 400 of which are Iowans.
“What you don’t know can hurt you,” said Miller. “We need to encourage testing, it’s easy and inexpensive to do.”
Thanks to Miller, the city is proclaiming January Radon Action Month for the fifth year in a row, and has received a $2,000 grant from the Iowa Department of Public Health for free testing and for awareness in schools in the upcoming year.
Beginning Jan. 2, the first 125 residents who visit the Jefferson County Environmental Health Department will be able to test their homes for radon free of charge.
Miller said his doors will be open to those interested 9 a.m. to noon weekdays at 901 N. Eighth St. in Fairfield. Miller will demonstrate how the test works, and provide a booklet of information as well. The kit also includes a stamped and addressed envelope to send in to a lab for test results. Applicants will be asked to provide their name, number, kit number, plus commit to report the results. Miller then reports results to the state health department.
Miller said he’s lucky to be able to offer free test kits to the community, since less state funding was available than usual.
“Funds are tight everywhere, and state funds are getting tighter too,” he said.
Last year, of the 100 test kits he distributed, 43 homes reported levels above 4.0 picocuries per liter, many in the teens or 20s, reported Miller.
“It’s obvious we have a radon problem in the county,” he said.
Of the homes above the EPA action level, Miller was pleased to report 15 pursued radon mitigation projects, which costs $1,200-$1,500.
Steve Hillis of South Fourth Street was one such resident, who said he’d never have thought to test for radon unless offered a free testing kit.
“The awareness month and being able to go pick up a free kit were the only reasons I got going on this,” said Hillis.
Hillis has lived in his house for 15 years and works from home as a statistician for the University of Iowa.
“I might stay another 20 or 30 years,” he said.
His home tested at 12 picocuries per liter, and without plans to move in the future, he decided to hire a mitigation specialist.
“If you’re going to live in a house over time, it’s worth it,” he said.
The Kreuters said if it weren’t for their young sons they’re not sure they’d have spent the money to have the system installed. Miller’s surprise at their exorbitantly high reading also sparked their concern.
“When I told him [Miller] it was 43, he said, ‘You mean 4.3?’” said David Kreuter.
Miller recommended the couple do a follow-up test to verify the results. Again, their levels came in above 40.
“He told us that was really high,” said David Kreuter.
After that, the couple began getting estimates from radon mitigation specialists, settling on Larry Larson of Fairfield, a state credentialed radon mitigation specialist who came highly recommended by Miller.
Larson drilled a hole in the basement and installed a fan in the floor to suck air from underneath the foundation. David Kreuter explained the fan connects to a pipe, which runs up through the roof and out of the house, bringing the radon with it.
Hillis also hired Larson and now works from home breathing air with only small traces of radon.
“I didn’t want to die from lung cancer because I didn’t get my radon problem fixed,” he said.