Experts discuss radon threat, mitigation in homes

Garrison Commander Col. Harry Hung listens to Capt. Gary Wilson, chief of Environmental Health at Munson Army Health Center, share information about radon during the Fort Leavenworth Facebook Town Hall meeting Sept. 19. Screenshot

Katie Peterson | Staff Writer

The Fort Leavenworth Garrison hosted a Facebook Live Town Hall meeting Sept. 19 and addressed a range of resident concerns.

One concern was the existence of radon in homes around post.

“Radon is a gas that is being released from rocks that are underground. It is a naturally occurring thing that happens,” said Capt. Gary Wilson, Munson Army Center Environmental Health chief. “Where it becomes an issue is, over the years a house will begin to settle. As it settles, there are a lot of cracks and things that happen. … The cracks allow the gas to seep into the house.”

Because of this, radon is most commonly detected in basements or the first floor of homes that do not have a basement, Wilson said.

Radon, when inhaled, can potentially cause damage to the lungs and lead to lung cancer, but Wilson said the chances of that are slim.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a person would need to be exposed to radon with four picocuries or higher for 75 years consecutively to be at risk for lung cancer. Smoking tobacco does put an individual at a higher risk, Wilson said.

“Radon takes time to travel to your lungs, but with tobacco it uses the tobacco as a vehicle to actually get to your lungs much faster,” Wilson said.

There are precautions that can be taken to reduce the risk of radon exposure in the home including providing proper ventilation in the home, particularly in the winter.

Additionally, before Fort Leavenworth housing was privatized, the government was in charge of the testing of homes on post, which included radon tests in every home. Those records are on file at the Fort Leavenworth Frontier Heritage Communities housing office.

“Many (houses) already have a mitigation system installed called a passive mitigation system, so we’re only really doing testing on new houses,” said Joe Gandara, Michaels Military Housing community director. “The passive system, it is almost like a sewer line that goes up through the attic and dissipates the gas.”

If radon is a concern in the home, a resident can put in a work order.

“The first thing we’re going to do is see if we have a test result already from either us doing it or the government doing it,” Gandara said.

If there is no test result on record, someone from the FLFHC Maintenance Office will install a radon detection device in the home.

“For three days, you’re not supposed to disturb (the device), you’re not supposed to change the environment around it,” Gandara said. “If it gets disturbed, we have to redo the test.

“But the detector, whatever the picocuries is, it will establish what the reading is in that house, and we can actually get the reading immediately after (uninstalling it),” he said.

If the first test shows a rating of four picocuries or higher, then a second test is performed to confirm. If the second test again shows a reading of four picocuries or higher, then the residence is put on a wait list for a mitigation system to be installed. If the first test shows less than four picocuries in the home, the testing concludes.

Because there are only five mitigation testing systems and a small number of qualified personnel to perform the tests, there is currently a three-month waitlist for testing, Gandara said. If a house tests positive for elevated levels, a work order is submitted, and within three months, a mitigation system is installed.

“You’re talking four to six months from point of concern and getting the test done to the point in which a mitigation system, if required, is installed,” Gandara said. “We are recording all the records so that we have them for future residents as well.”

A six-month timeline is considered to be within the EPA guidelines for mitigation system installation.

“If it is between four and eight picocuries, the EPA recommends you begin mitigation within five years, so it is a very long, significant amount of time that you have to fix the issue,” Wilson said. “We are taking appropriate precautions.”

For more information on potential health risks related to radon, e-mail

For more information on the mitigation installation process, call the Housing Oversight Office at 684-5669.

To put in a work order for a radon test, call the FLFHC Maintenance Office at (913) 651-3838.


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