‘The invisible killer’: Thousands of Kansas City metro homes at risk for high radon levels

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Counties on both sides of the state line are among the worst in the country for something that could be harming your family right now, according to the EPA.

“I really had no idea why I had gotten cancer," said Daryn Cashmark, a lung cancer survivor. "At that point of time in my life, I was just flabbergasted by the news and did not know what to think.”

Cashmark is a young, married grandfather with an incurable disease. Twice diagnosed with lung cancer, doctors told Cashmark in 2013 he would likely live less than two years.

Daryn Cashmark

“I’m cautiously optimistic," he said. "I never thought I was going to be around today honestly, so I have a lot of things to be thankful for.”

Cashmark couldn't believe he had lung cancer.

As a non-smoker, a friend suggested Cashmark test his business and home in Independence for radon gas, the second leading cause of lung cancer.

The tests results came back high.

“It was a new home," he said. "Did not think much about it. At that point of time, I did not know what radon was.”

In Kansas, power tools are being used to keep radon away.

Radon comes from decaying uranium in the soil. But with no smell and no taste, you may have no idea this invisible killer is seeping into your home.

“These are like little atomic bullets going off in your lungs," said Bruce Snead, a radon expert at Kansas State University. "What do we know about bullets? The more you're exposed to them, the more potential for danger. Well, that's going on in our lungs."

According to the state of Missouri, about 40 percent of homes in the metro test high for radon. The problem is only about two percent of the homes ever get tested.

Experts say the easiest way to test for radon is to get a free kit. So FOX 4 ordered one, and five days later, the kit showed up at our door.

A radon test kit

Less than an hour after getting the keys to their new Lenexa home, Connor and Emily Pemble are reducing the high radon in the house by installing a system that will suck the gas out of the earth before it enters their home.

“Just want to make sure before we move in, the house is in livable condition, and there is nothing here poisonous or cancerous to us,” Connor Pemble said.

The Pemble's new house is in good company. Because radon seeps in from the soil, the gas levels vary house to house with new homes and old homes both vulnerable.

At last count, 45 percent of the homes tested in Johnson County had high radon levels, which is similar to the rate in Wyandotte County.

Kansas law requires that homebuyers receive a warning about radon with a recommendation they test the home during the homebuying phase.

The same can’t be said for Missouri.

State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal is trying for the second time to pass the Missouri Radon Awareness Act, which would also warn homebuyers about radon.

“This is really critical because people do not deserve to get sick," Chappelle-Nadal said. "So the American dream is for a family or a person to buy a home, live in that home, retire in that home not knowing that they may have some of this radon underneath their house."

In his new home in Lone Jack, Cashmark ponders what might have been had he known about radon years ago. Today, he's busy selling his business and living in the short term because that's all he can count on.

“I live three months at a time," he said. "Well, everyone says you have to have long-terms plans and everything. What are you going to do? I don't know. My next scan could be bad again."

The average cost to install a radon mitigation system to reduce the gas in your home starts at about $1,000.

Do-it-yourself kits to test for radon are usually less than $10 and typically take less than a week to conduct. If you live Missouri, good news: Those kits are free.