REED CITY — January is Radon Awareness month and Central Michigan District Health Department invites residents and their families to join others across the state in taking the “test” for radon in your home.

Radon tests are easy to do and are available at any local health department.

During the month of January, test kits at all branch offices of CMDHD will be discounted to $5 or free with a donation of a non-perishable food item. Donated food items will be given to local food pantries that have supplies depleted during the holiday season.

“The staff at CMDHD is pleased to be able to offer radon testing at a reduced cost while helping local food pantries,” said Steve King, director of environmental health services.

Radon is a Class A carcinogen (cancer-causing) radioactive gas. People cannot see, smell or taste radon, but it may be a problem in their home. When people breathe air which contains radon, it increases the risk of getting lung cancer. In fact, the Surgeon General says radon is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers in America. About 21,000 Americans will die each year of radon-related lung cancer.

If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high. 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.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas resulting from the natural decay 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 radioactive decay products. The decay products then attach to the surface of aerosols, dusts and smoke particles. These particles are inhaled and may become trapped deeply in the lungs.

“Radon can become concentrated in our homes, especially in the winter months when doors and windows are closed, so this is the best time to test,” King said.

Indoor radon is a national environmental health problem. It has been determined to be the most serious cancer-causing agent that the general public encounters in the environment. Elevated radon levels have been found in virtually every state. The EPA estimates that as many as 8 million homes throughout the country have elevated levels of radon. State surveys to date show that 1 out of 15 homes have elevated radon levels.

Exposure to radon does not cause headaches, nausea, fatigue or skin rashes like many other environmental toxins. 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 then it is too late. Testing is the only way to know your homes radon levels.

More general Radon information is available by calling CMDHD or visiting the Environmental Protection Agency website at epa.gov/radon/index.html or http://www.michigan.gov/deq/.