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Transcript of JoCo on the Go podcast 1/13/20

Theresa Freed: [00:00] On this week's episode hear from local experts about how to detect radon and what you can do if excessive levels are found in your home. You'll also hear from a Johnson County resident who will share his experience with finding out he had a problem with radon and what he did about it.

Announcer: [00:14] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed: [00:29] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go, I'm your host, Teresa, Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Our listeners may not be aware, but radon is fairly prevalent in Johnson County. If you buy a home, you may have the option of having radon levels tested before you make your purchase. So what is radon and why should we be concerned? January is radon awareness month at perfect opportunity to talk about this important subject. Getting us started with the conversation is Denise Dias with the K-State Research and Extension office in Johnson County. Thanks for being here.

Denise Dias: [01:01] Thanks for having me, Theresa.

Theresa Freed: [01:03] Well, first off and probably most importantly, what exactly is radon?

Denise Dias: [01:07] Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It's odorless, tasteless, colorless, you can't see it. So it's one of those things that people may not realize is even in their home as radium breaks down in the soil, it becomes radon gas and then that gas seeps up through the soil through cracks and crevices and foundations into our homes.

Theresa Freed: [01:34] Gotcha. can you talk a little bit about the presence of it here in Johnson County? Cause it is relatively high here.

Denise Dias: [01:41] Yes. Johnson County, the average level of radon in most homes runs around 5.3 picocuries per liter, which is an a measurement of air, how they measure it. And that doesn't mean that some houses don't have high levels, but a lot of them do probably you know, the upper 45, 46% of homes in our County are testing at those higher levels.

Theresa Freed: [02:09] Okay. And I think you mentioned there were just a couple of zip codes here where you don't have those high levels.

Denise Dias: [02:14] Right. We do have a County map showing where the average levels in those zip codes are. There's a couple of them that still look a little bit on the low side that could be just because of not a lot of testing being done in those areas, in those zip codes. So, you know, I would say for most people don't take the chance you know, invest in a little bit of money in order to do a test to find out if your home has high levels of radon.

Theresa Freed: [02:45] Okay. So even if you're in those zip codes, don't take that for granted there. There still may be an issue with union in your home. Exactly. And we'll of course have the link to that map on our show notes so people can access that if, if they have any concerns. But really it sounds like it's a widespread issue here in Johnson County, so everybody should have at least some level of concern about it.

Denise Dias: [03:04] Exactly. There's even statewide. If you look at a state map of radon in Kansas almost the entire state is turning you know, red, which means those higher levels of radon in radon gas in County. But there's a few counties in Southern Kansas that don't have quite that level of radon yet, but it could be just because of lack of testing in those counties.

Theresa Freed: [03:34] Okay. That makes sense. And where do we see, I guess the, the bigger problems with this, is it just, you know, in older homes that are more likely to have those cracks in the foundation? Or is it also an issue for newer construction.

Denise Dias: [03:46] It can be new homes as well as older homes. So the soil of course in our area tends to be on the Rocky side and have a lot of radium in it. So it doesn't matter if you're in an older home and you know, refurnishing it or if you're building new. And in fact, if you're building a new home, it's encouraged that you build it with radon resistance in mind. So, you know, if you do, once the home's built and you do a test and find out your radon levels are high, it's easier and less expensive to install a radon system if you've done a little bit of pre-thought and pre-planning before it's built.

Theresa Freed: [04:28] Okay. That sounds good. And I know you had the opportunity to visit with the governor during a recent proclamation signing for radon awareness month. Can you talk about why it's important to bring attention to this issue, if not daily, at least annually?

Denise Dias: [04:41] Yes. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in people who do not smoke. So it's, it's always surprising to me to find someone that comes back with a diagnosis of lung cancer and they're like, I've never smoked a day in my life. How come I have lung cancer? So then at that point it's, it's good to investigate where they've lived and if their home has high levels of, of radon gas. And of course it's kind of cumulative over time. How that cancer develops in the body. So, depending on what level of radon in the home could determine how quickly and also a person's health, how quickly they would develop a lung cancer.

Theresa Freed: [05:28] Okay. And that's obviously extremely serious. Are there other conditions that are associated with, with radon?

Denise Dias: [05:37] No, there is not any other conditions other than lung cancer because you're breathing in that gas on a regular basis in a home that tests high. Okay.

Theresa Freed: [05:48] All right. So very important to know what the situation is, is in your home, especially if you're living in that structure for an extended amount of time. All right. So can you talk a little bit about the services and the kits that are offered at the K-State Research and Extension office to help homeowners find out what their own radon levels are?

Denise Dias: [06:06] Yes. The Johnson County Extension Office offers radon test kits. It's a do it yourself kit. It retails for $10 and we order them in, in bulk and just turn around and basically sell them you know, at cost so that homeowners in the area can have an inexpensive way to check out their home for radon gas. The kits are considered very reliable. And often is a first step in exploring whether or not your home has high levels of, of that radon gas.

Theresa Freed: [06:41] Okay. And can you talk a little bit about how, how you get that package and then what you do with it in the time of day?

Denise Dias: [06:48] Right. So people need to stop by our office. We're located at the Sunset Drive office building. And they can just stop in and pick up a kit. I also have lots of information available at that time on different aspects of radon from radon in, you know, can you, how to do it yourself or if you're looking for a list of contractors in our County that are certified in radon mitigation, I have a list of those folks there. As well as other aspects of radon in your home, you may not have thought of such as in water or your granite countertop or what have you. So there's a lot of information there too that they can pick up when they pick up their kit. The kit is really self-explanatory. You take it home, open up the kit and set out this little canister of activated charcoal and it sits in the lowest level of your home for a couple of days. And then you package it up in the envelope that comes with the kit. It's prepaid postage. You don't have to worry about finding a stamp or anything and just pop it in the mail. And usually within a week to 10 days you'll get a written response back about your radon levels or if you want it sooner. You know, include your email in that test kit and they'll email you results as soon as they have them run. So, you know, you can find out fairly quick about the radon levels in your home.

Theresa Freed: [08:23] Okay. And that's a great service that's offered right here in Johnson County. And can you let our listeners know if, if they do need additional information, you know, is there somebody they can reach out to? There's that website, you know, how do they access just general information that they wouldn't know?

Denise Dias: [08:37] Right. General information. We do have that available on our Johnson County Extension website. You can just Google Johnson County Extension and find it also in Kansas, the bulk of information and publications and more technical information is available on the kansasradoprogram.org website that is housed at Kansas State University. And you know, if you have something really technical we can reach out to, to our state specialists there and get some additional help and get your questions answered.

Theresa Freed: [09:13] Okay, so bottom line, everybody should know what the radon level is in their home.

Denise Dias: [09:16] Yes, they, they really do need to know. So it's, it's an important issue and one, not to take lightly for sure.

Theresa Freed: [09:24] All right, well thank you so much for joining us today. We talked about how to detect radon in your home. Next we're going to talk to a local professional who helps residents get rid of radon. And we're also going to talk to a man who has firsthand knowledge about dealing with radon in his own home. So thank you both for being here. Thanks for having us. All right. Well Wes, can you start off by just telling us a little bit about what you do?

Wes Hogden: [09:49] We provide radon testing, mitigation and consultation services here in Johnson County, but throughout the Metro area I have been doing so since the late eighties

Theresa Freed: [09:59] Okay. And Dan, if you can introduce yourself and let us know roughly where you live at in Johnson County, not the address, just the area.

Dan Gaffney: [10:05] So I'm Dan Gaffney, my wife and I and our brand new child, a little girl. We live in southern Olathe around Heritage Park area.

Theresa Freed: [10:13] Congratulations on your daughter. All right, so Dan, can you tell us about how you found out you had radon in your home?

Dan Gaffney: [10:19] So we bought our house about five years ago and all around us we could tell people had the systems put in except for our house. And a couple of years ago we thought, wow we should probably get it tested. We never really got our true results and we kind of just forgot about it. And then like I said, we just had our little girl so we thought, wow, we should probably do it again. And actually have a company come out and do it. And they came out and they're very professional and quick about it. And so through the whole process his name was Chad who we dealt with and he was very thorough with us, honest and open with the whole process. And so that's kind of why we did it and how we started the process on it.

Theresa Freed: [10:56] Okay. So just mostly concerned that you got a new child and you want to keep her safe. That makes sense. So do you remember what the level was in your home?

Dan Gaffney: [11:04] I believe ours, the average was seven, the high sevens. And I think at, sometimes it was up in the eights but I'm think the average number was in the high sevens.

Theresa Freed: [11:13] Okay. So when you found out that you did have radon in your home, was that concerning? I mean, did you worry that you had been exposed?

Dan Gaffney: [11:19] It was concerning. We like say we lived there for five years in talking to Chad who kind of walked us through, kind of talked about the exposures and how long it would take to have effects on, on us so we weren't too concerned with ourselves, but it's our kind of our forever house. So we want to live there forever, a very, very long time. And so something that we knew that needed to get done sooner than later.

Theresa Freed: [11:39] And then once you reached out and had the remediation done or have the the contact with, with a professional how long did it take before the issue was resolved?

Dan Gaffney: [11:51] The whole, from start to finish, from them coming out, testing, putting the system in and retesting to make sure it was working was a approximately a week and a half, two weeks, and that was at Christmas, so,

Theresa Freed: [12:03] Oh, that's not bad then. All right. All right. Any message to homeowners on, on whether they should think about doing this?

Dan Gaffney: [12:10] It's, you can't, it doesn't hurt to get it tested. You know, you might get lucky and it comes back that it's low or low enough that you don't have to be too concerned about it. And if it is high enough to be concerned about it and it's just a peace of mind, at least for, for us, it's a peace of mind and on, it wasn't nearly as expensive as we were thought the whole process was going to be. We thought it'd be way higher. So my wife and I were shocked on the cost and all that and so we were very, very happy with it.

Theresa Freed: [12:36] All right. And Wes if you can tell our listeners a little bit about some of those typical concerns they might have when, when they first contact you and say, you know, I want to know if I have radon my house.

Wes Hogden: [12:48] Of course, the first response is always to do a test. I, and the Johnson County as well as the, the EPA all recommend that every homeowner do a radon test in their home. Here in Johnson County, roughly half of all homes test high for radon. So that's step number one. Obviously you can get radon tests at your local hardware stores, but you can also get them at your local extension office. And so that's the, the starting point. If a home does test high, it's worth reaching out to a professional to install a mitigation system. And in most homes that's a fairly easy installation and a qualified professional should be able to provide a guarantee for radon reductions in your home.

Theresa Freed: [13:33] Okay. And can you talk a little bit about what that mitigation system looks like?

Wes Hogden: [13:37] A mitigation system is a system that is designed to draw soil air from underneath your home and exhausted outside radon is a soil gas. So that's the entry point. The idea is to extend a pipe from underneath your house some fashion route that pipe to the roof line. There is a fan installed on that pipe. The fan runs continuously and it simply pulls air from underneath the house and exhausts it so that soil air can no longer interrupt into the home. Every home's a little bit different in terms of how and where that system can be installed outside of reducing radon levels. The next big question is always aesthetics. Nobody wants an eyesore on their home. And so our firm always comes out and has a look at people's homes to identify what those options might be.

Theresa Freed: [14:20] Okay. And so, you know, as we heard, it's fairly affordable considering that you're getting that peace of mind. But can you talk about generally what the cost is?

Wes Hogden: [14:28] Most homes can be in most newer homes, I should say. It can be mitigated for less than a thousand dollars complete with retesting and guarantees. Again, every home's a little different older homes can tend to provide or present challenges that a newer home does not. There again, always worth having somebody come out and have a look so that you can those details.

Theresa Freed: [14:52] Okay. And it sounds like the, the radon comes in through cracks and things like that in the foundation. So does that mean those, those cracks need to be remedied as well or will this mitigation system?

Wes Hogden: [15:03] So as, as a component of the overall mitigation system, yes, you would be required to seal up any large openings, sump pits if there exist in the home are required to have an airtight cover installed. If there are any large cracks in the basement floor or foundation, a ceiling up those cracks would be a requirement with the radon system as well.

Theresa Freed: [15:24] Okay. And can you talk about have you seen any extreme cases just, you know, where, where somebody is, is pretty sick already or, or where there's just really high levels and you're letting people know that they were exposed?

Wes Hogden: [15:36] We certainly see homes all the time that have very high levels. It's not uncommon in Johnson County to find the levels that are in well in excess of four picocuries. Unfortunately there have been a time or two that we've been called in to a situation where we get to meet a widow or a widower whose spouse passed away from lung cancer. Nobody had spoke about radon prior to that, and then they do a radon test after the fact and find that the radon levels were very high in the home. And so it's a sad situation. But fortunately that's not a daily occurrence for us. But it is, it does bring to point that that knowing what the radon levels are in your home is important and the only way to know is to test.

Theresa Freed: [16:23] Okay. And just some, some last information for residents who are shopping around for a home, whether it's new or an older house. That's part of the inspection process potentially. Is that right?

Wes Hogden: [16:37] There is no legal requirement that a person test to a home for radon. And if the, if they do do a test, there's no legal requirement that the person selling the house fix it. But we estimate that roughly 75 to 80% of buyers nowadays do a radon inspection as part of their overall inspections, mechanical inspections and things like that. Absolutely recommended to do a radon test at that, at that point. And then of course even if the home does test low EPA still recommends that a person do a radon test every few years just to ensure that the levels haven't changed. And that also goes hand in hand, in Dan's situation. If you've installed a radon mitigation system, EPA still recommends doing that test every few years just to make sure the system is still providing productions.

Theresa Freed: [17:24] Okay, that makes sense. All right, well thank you so much for joining us. And good luck with getting sleep.

Announcer: [17:28] You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast, visit jocogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.