The EPA recently issued a press release proclaiming January to be National Radon Action Month and urging homeowners to test and know their home’s radon level.
According to the EPA, “Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers,” and “exposure to radon in indoor air is the second leading cause of lung cancer overall, after smoking.”
The EPA website provides an EPA map of Radon Zones, and all of Iowa is in the red “Zone 1”, or the highest risk for radon levels above 4 pCi/l (picocuries per liter).  Iowa has the highest percentage of homes above 4 pCi/L   in the United States. Approximately the eastern third of Nebraska is also in Zone 1, and they have the second highest rate.  
According to the EPA, 1.3 pCi/l is the average indoor radon level, and it is hard to mitigate the radon levels lower.  
A radon level of 4 pCi/l is the minimum number at which the EPA suggests taking action, having work done to your home to reduce the radon levels.
The website says “A family whose home has radon levels of 4 pCi/l is exposed to approximately 35 times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would allow if that family was standing next to the fence of a radioactive waste site.
An elementary school student that spends 8 hours per day and 180 days per year in a classroom with 4 pCi/l of radon will receive nearly 10 times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows at the edge of a nuclear power plant.”
The EPA says that an estimated 21,000 Americans die from lung cancer every year due to radon exposure. Unfortunately, there are no immediate symptoms that will alert you to the presence of radon, and it can take years of exposure before any problems surface.
This is why the EPA recommends testing your home for radon, because testing is the only way to know your home's radon levels.

What is Radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas and comes from the natural breakdown (radioactive decay) of uranium.  According to the Fremont County Environmental Health website, “Radon  is  colorless,  odorless,  and  tasteless.  It  originates  in  the  soil  from  the  natural  decay  of  uranium  that  exists  in  or  below  most  soils and  enters  the  home  through  cracks,  around  pipes  or  conduit openings, through sump pumps and drain tiles, between the floor and wall joints in a basement, and even from negative pressure drawing the gas into the home.”  
According to the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinic website, “Iowa has the highest average indoor radon concentration in the nation due to our glacial history.
As the glaciers came over Iowa, they deposited finely ground rocks that contain radium. Because the rocks that make up our soils are so finely ground, they have a large surface area to emit radon gas. Since the highest average radon concentrations are found in Iowa, Iowans are at even greater risk of radon-induced lung cancer compared to most Americans. In fact, about 400 Iowans die each year from radon exposure.”
How do we test for it?
Radon test kits are available from some retail stores like Menards, and many local Health departments.  In Fremont County, a simple Short-term Test Kit costs $6.00, and can be picked up at the Environmental Health Specialist Office at 2014 290th Avenue in Sidney.
In Otoe County, the Southeast District Health Department offers free radon test kits, available by contacting the Southeast District Health Department at 877-777-0424, by stopping by their office at 2511 Schneider Avenue in Auburn, and in a few other locations.  
Because they cover five counties, (Otoe, Johnson, Nemaha, Pawnee and Richardson) the Southeast District Health Department is trying to find good distribution locations in each county, and plans to advertise those locations when they do.  Right now, kits can also be picked up in Nebraska City at CHI Health St. Mary’s.
These easy to use do-it-yourself radon test kits come with instructions and postage paid packaging to submit tests to a lab.  
John Travis, Environmental Health Specialist for Fremont County, explained that you simply take the test kit out of the packaging, mark the date and time you are hanging it up, then hang it in the basement or the most lived-in room in your home.  
Leave it there for 3-7 days, then mark the ending date and time of your testing, fill out your address details, being sure to include an email address, put it in the provided packaging and send it to the lab.  
Travis said the lab will usually send the results to you in about three weeks.  A
s Fremont County’s Environmental Health Specialist, Travis also receives a copy of the test results, as does Kevin Cluskey, Public Health Director of Southeast District Health Department in Nebraska.
Travis said he checks in with the homeowners who received test results over 4 pCi/l to see if they are looking into mitigation or have any questions he can help with.  Cluskey said he uses the results for record-keeping purposes, is able to tell homeowners their results if they lose them, and he also uses them to pinpoint areas where more kits need to be distributed.
Travis cautions homeowners not to assume their home will have a low level of radon just because a neighbor did.  His records started in October of 2015, and show radon levels in Fremont County homes at a wide range.  
Of the 67 homes tested there since that date, the range has run from 1.6 to 25.7 pCi/l, and there has been no rhyme or reason to those results.  
Cluskey said this was only their second year of distributing the kits, but last year in Nebraska City alone 13 homes were tested and their levels ranged from 4.7 to 28.2 pCi/l.
Both Travis and Cluskey agreed that radon levels are often higher when tested in the winter, but suggested it might be best to test then anyway to see how bad it can get when the house is closed up tight.

What if my test results show levels over 4 pCi/l?
If testing shows your home to have a high radon level, a radon reduction system can be professionally installed at a cost of approximately $800-$2,000. In some cases these costs can be covered under a health care spending account if a homeowner has such a plan through their workplace.
This system uses a vent pipe and exhaust fan to discharge the radon outside.  
In homes with a basement or on a cement slab, Travis said they drill a hole of about five inch diameter in the cement, dig out about 10 gallons of dirt from inside that hole, then run a pvc pipe from that hole up through the roof of the house.  
This pipe has an in-line fan that runs 24-7, moving the radon up and out of the house.  Travis said he used one of the kits to test his home, and the level was 23.6 pCi/l; after he had it professionally mitigated, it tests at around 1 pCi/l.
Information can be found online at various websites for people who want to try to mitigate the radon themselves rather than hire a professional.
 The Southeast District Health Department provides a link to a Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services website that provides detailed instructions on do-it-yourself radon mitigation installation.
A list of certified radon testers and mitigators can be obtained from the Iowa Department of Public Health by calling their toll-free number at 800-383-5992.  
The Southeast District Health Department website also provides a link to a list of Licensed Radon Mitigation Businesses in Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Whether the homeowner hires a professional or does mitigation himself, Travis recommends testing radon levels again after installation to ensure that the levels are down.
Cluskey urged homeowners to be aware of the very real danger represented by radon, do the testing, and reach out to his office if they had any questions.
To learn more about radon, about testing, or about the National Radon Action Plan, visit  Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has excellent information on their website at
Locally, see the Fremont County Environmental Health webpage at, or call John Travis at 712-374-3355.
In Otoe County, see the Southeast District Health Department website at, or call 402-274-3993, or Toll Free: 877-777-0424.