LAKE COUNTY — January is Radon Awareness month and the Central Michigan District Health Department invites you and your family to join others in taking the “test” for radon in your home.

Radon is a class A carcinogen (cancer-causing) radioactive gas. You cannot see, smell, or taste radon, but it is a problem in many homes. When people breathe air which contains radon, they increase the risk of getting lung cancer. In fact, the Surgeon General says that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers in America. About 22,000 Americans will die each year of radon-related lung cancer. More than 600 of these people will reside in Michigan. The risk of lung cancer is especially high if anyone in the home is also a smoker.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas resulting from the natural breakdown of uranium. Most soils contain varying amounts of uranium. Radon in soil, groundwater or building materials enters working and living spaces and begins to disintegrate into its decay product. This decay product can attach to the surface of aerosols, dusts, and smoke particles. These particles then may be inhaled, whereby becoming deeply lodged or trapped in the lungs. Radon and its decay products are more concentrated in confined air spaces.

"For this reason, radon levels are typically higher in homes during the winter months when doors and windows are closed more often and air circulation is poor, so this is the best time of year to test," says Michigan's Director of Environmental Health Services, Michelle Patton.

Radon is a national environmental health problem. Elevated radon levels have been discovered in virtually every state. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that as many as 8 million homes throughout the country have elevated levels of radon. State surveys to date show that one out of every eight homes have elevated radon levels.

Some scientific studies of radon exposure indicate that children may be more sensitive to radon. This may be due to their higher respiration rate and their rapidly dividing cells, which may be more vulnerable to radiation damage. Testing is the only way to know a home's radon levels.

"Contrary to popular belief, radon exposure does not cause headaches, nausea, fatigue, or skin rashes like other environmental toxins," states Ms. Patton. "There are no immediate symptoms that will alert you to the presence of radon. It typically takes years of exposure before any problems surface, and by then it is too late."

The EPA, Surgeon General, American Lung Association, American Medical Association and National Safety Council all recommend the public test their homes for radon.

Radon tests are easy to do and are available at any local health department. During the month of January, test kits will be discounted to $5 or free with a donation of a nonperishable food item. These items will be donated to local food pantries which have supplies depleted during the holiday season.

"It’s just our way of doing our part to help our neighbors who are experiencing tough times, especially after the holidays," said Director Patton.

More general Radon information is available by calling the Central Michigan District Health Department or visiting the website at epa.gov/radon/index.html or michigan.gov/deq.