TOPEKA (KSNT)- High levels of radon, a radioactive gas that’s the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., can be found in more than one in four homes in Kansas. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is urging people to test for the gas in their homes, especially during winter months.

“In the winter months when the outside temperature is much cooler than the air inside the home can actually pull radon in from the soil at a higher rate,” Mark Ungerer said, an administrator for the Kansas Radon Action Program. “Most people won’t know that they’ve lived somewhere with elevated radon until they develop lung cancer and they’ve never smoked in their life. They think, ‘where can this be from?'”

Ungerer said symptoms like coughing and wheezing are not usually tied to radon exposure. Instead, high levels of the gas can lead to the long-term risk of lung cancer. Radon levels can vary from home to home, with some people detecting much higher levels of the gas than their neighbors.

Roger Dahlby, an environmental engineer who works with Advanced Environmental Services, Inc. in Topeka, said he learned one of his clients had passed away after developing lung cancer from years of exposure to high levels of radon in his home. Dahlby said he helped the client with mitigation techniques when they sought services.

“The only way you can determine radon, because you can’t see it, smell it, taste it, is with a radon monitor to see if your home is safe,” Dahlby said.

Without testing, the gas can go undetected for years in homes or buildings.

Dahlby said short-term detection services usually take about two days. According to the Centers for Disease Control, long-term test kits measure radon in the home for more than 90 days and are more likely to tell your home’s year-round average level.

“The best decision is to test no matter how you go about it,” Dahlby said. “We need to be aware that this is taking lives and it is serious.”

DeSoto, Eudora, Gardner, Junction City, Lawrence, Manhattan, Olathe, Salina, and Topeka have building codes that require new homes to be built using radon-resistant techniques. More counties in Kansas such as Shawnee County and Douglas County have adopted this modification to their building codes, according to state health officials. 

According to the Kansas Radon Program, most county extension offices in Kansas offer kits for Kansas residents for about $10. 

If homeowners detect high levels of radon, health officials said it’s best to contact a certified radon contractor. A list of certified radon contractors is available by calling the Kansas Radon Hotline at 800-693-5343. Additional information about radon can be found at kansasradonprogram.org and at epa.gov/radon.