There's a predator lurking in Colorado homes that few people know about.
But Colorado State University Moffat County Cooperative Extension Family and Consumer Sciences agent Elisa Shackelton is on a mission to stop it.
Shackelton is offering free radon tests to people who want to check their homes. The airborne chemical seeps through cracks in a home's foundation and can cause lung cancer in those who live there.
"Radon is our No. 1 radiation exposure," Shackelton said. "We are the No. 1 state in the nation for being bombarded by radiation."
She said Colorado is designated a Zone 1 state by the Environmental Protection Agency, meaning more than half of the homes here have elevated radon levels. But many of them haven't been tested.
Shackelton has received a grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for the past five years and has distributed about 400 test kits free of charge.
These kits simply are hung on a wall in an area of the home where the air is relatively still. After three to seven days, homeowners seal the kit and send it in to be scientifically tested. The test and postage are all free, and the homeowners will receive the results in the mail.
Shackelton said if the results show a reading above, or near, four pico Curries per liter, homeowners should invest in a more accurate $24 test that stays in the home for 90 days to one year.
If the results are below the threshold level, homeowners should feel comfortable with their radon exposure.
"It's really smart and to people's advantage to have it tested and to get it fixed," Shackelton said.
She said that many homes now are built with radon-resistant materials, which cost about $200 or $300. However, if homeowners wait to fix the problem after the house is built, the charge jumps to between $1,200 and $1,500.
Shackelton said it's important to get the situation fixed, though, and it is worth the cost. Among nonsmokers, there are more lung cancer cases from radon than second-hand smoke.
Radon can't be seen or smelled and is therefore impossible for humans to detect. Lung cancer has no symptoms and takes years to develop, but by the time the cancer is detected, it's too late.
In addition, more buyers are checking into radon levels before purchasing homes, and they are more inclined to purchase a home that has the radon-resistant construction.
Shackelton is attending a conference called the 3Rs -- radiation, radioactivity and radon- through the Colorado School of Mines, and she is inviting teachers and government officials to join her.
For more information about the tests or 3Rs, call Shackelton at 824-9180, or stop by the extension office, 539 Barclay St.
Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.