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Drought increases concerns about Radon gas in homes

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OLATHE, Kan. -- The drought in the midwest could be causing an unhealthy amount of radon gas to seep into your home, putting you and your family at risk of lung cancer. While that may sound overly dramatic, experts say it is a real concern.

Craig Istas said he was shocked how much radon was in his home.

"I built this house 20 years ago," Istas said, "I've been breathing this stuff for 20 years, so yeah I got concerned about it."

What is radon? It comes from uranium, found naturally in most soil, and as it decays it emits radon gas.

James Connell with A1 Radon said anything that measures less than four picocuries is considered safe. But Craig was shocked what A1 found in his house.

"I was out of town while he tested it, so I came back and he said '25' i was like wow!" said Istas.

Connell said in the past it used to be pretty common to find high levels of radon in about a third of the houses he would test. Now he's seeing high levels in half the homes he's testing.

Connell explained the drought is partly to blame. Water levels fall, speeding up radium decay, plus the drought is causing cracks in foundations or walls where radon gas can then seep into your home. Connell said even though you can't see it or smell it, radon gas is a danger it can eventually lead to lung cancer. Connell compares it to smoking.

"Smoking is not going to kill you overnight or the first week or first month, but over years of smoking you can develop lung cancer," he said, "and that's how radon gas is. Over years of exposure to radon gas it can cause lung cancer."

Istas is talking to A1 Radon about getting a radon mitigation system, which run from about $700 to $1,500. But he's glad he discovered the problem.

"I think everybody ought to have it tested," he said, "I never would have guessed we were this high."

The EPA suggests people have homes tested for radon every two years. Home testing kits run about $15, but once you mail in the test, it will cost an additional $10 to $30 to have the test analyzed.

If you want to hire an expert, the state of Kansas requires radon testers to be certified, but Missouri requires no such certification.

For a list of Kansas-certified radon detection technicians, click here.

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