County inspected for radon pollutant

By Diane Buerger

Radon levels in DeKalb County are consistent with those of counties in the remainder of the state of Illinois, the Department of Nuclear Safety reports.

Radon, a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas is a naturally occurring indoor pollutant. The gas, which is radioactive and increases the chances of lung cancer in those who breathe it, has registered a 4.3 level in 56 homes in DeKalb County.

Melanie Hamel, a health physicist with the Department of Nuclear Safety, said the statewide radon average is 4.3 with levels ranging from 1.2 to 18.9. The level of 4 is the recommended annual average guideline.

Of the 102 counties in Illinois, the department has screened 23,000 homes in 47 counties.

Hamel said, “The screening measurements are the initial measurements. The gas exists in the basement or first-level floor and is higher in the heating season than in the summer. The guideline screening results ranging from 4 to 20 are retested for a year to test the annual average.”

Eugene Perry, from the Department of Geology, said, “Radon can tend to be confined to the lower part of the house, coming from the soils. It can also be from brick or granite blocks, which is unlikely in DeKalb. The soil in DeKalb is the most likely source.”

Perry said well-insulated houses and houses built with bricks with a high uranium content also might be sources of high radon.

Radon levels range from .1 to 75.6 pico-Curies per meter, which measures radioactivity for levels per unit of concentration. About 81 percent of houses tested in the Illinois counties of Livingston and Henry have radon levels of greater than 4.

Hamel said, “It is difficult to reduce much lower than 4; the lower the level, the better as with any type of pollution.”

Most homes can be screened with a radon test-kit which ranges in price from $10 to $25. The different types of kits are charcoal-based, in which radon is absorbed by a charcoal-based detector; Alpha-tract, in which decaying radon is attracted to plastic; and E-PERTS, in which a Telflon disk with a charge reacts to the radon charge producing ionizing particles in the air. The amount of discharge is proportional to radon levels.

Perry said, “Radon-222 is a noble gas that doesn’t react with anything. It decays by emitting an alpha particle with a high energy. When it is ingested into the lungs and decays, it is shot into the tissue of the lung and destroys and leaves another radioactive element.

“It is not hazardous to the touch, but it explodes in your body … once it gets to the soft tissue like the lung, it’s kind of a gory mess. It offers chances for cancer to develop,” Perry said.