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Q: What is radon and why is it bad for me?

A: Radon is radioactive gas that originates from soil and can leak into homes through cracks in foundations and walls, according to Public Health Madison and Dane County (PHMDC).

The natural, invisible and odorless gas is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers in Wisconsin and second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.

Of the 2,900 yearly lung cancer deaths in Wisconsin, radon is estimated to cause about 490 of them, according to PHMDC.

The winter months are an especially bad time for radon exposure because homes and other buildings are heated and closed up, increasing length of exposure, according to PHMDC.

Radon is common throughout Wisconsin and the area, with an estimated 20 percent of Dane County homes having high levels of radon, according to PHMDC. About one in 10 homes throughout the state have high levels of the gas, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Home testing kits usually cost less than $25 and can be purchased from PHMDC for $10.

To buy a test kit or speak with a radon specialist, call the South Central Wisconsin Radon Information Center at 608-243-0392.

Results should be available in two to three weeks after being sent to a laboratory.

High test results could require a mitigation system to prevent radon from entering a home. Those systems typically cost about $1,200, PHMDC said.

More information is available online at dhs.wisconsin.gov/radon/index.htm.

— Chris Aadland

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