Radon – FAQ

What is radon?
Radon is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, dense, tasteless noble gas, occurring naturally in soil.

How does radon get into homes?
Radon gas forms naturally in the soil in the Midwest. When the gas is produced, it simply rises up through the ground and is released into the natural environment.
However, when homes are built in or on soil emitting radon, instead of the gas rising up through dense soil, radon gas chooses the path of least resistance – normally through the floors or wall of the first level of the home – the basement. Depending on how the home was built and how ventilated the basement is, levels of radon can fluctuate.

Why is radon dangerous to human beings?
Radon has been classified as carcinogenic by the US EPA. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer – first being smoking. People who are exposed to both radon gas and smoke (first or second-hand) have a multipled risk of developing lung cancer.
Most radon-induced lung cancers occur from low and medium dose exposures in people’s homes.

Why are basements the most likely place to find radon gas? Why not in my second floor apartment?
Radon gas comes from decay of radioactive substances that are ubiquitous in the Midwestern soil. Because basements and first floor units are most often the first point of contact between soil (the source of radon gas) and the building, this is where radon normally enters the building.
Radon gas is also far more dense than “air.” Helium is lighter and less dense than air and therefore balloons filled with it fly away and up into the sky if not held down. Radon is heavier than air. For that reason, it sinks below lighter “air” to remain in our basements and lower level units. The more time someone spends in a unit/basement that has radon gas, the more exposure that person receives.

How do I know if my family and I are being exposed to radon gas?
If you live in the basement or first floor of a building, it is likely that you are being exposed to radon gas. The risk goes up if the building was poorly built, is poorly maintained and/or is poorly ventilated. There is no safe level of radon but minimizing exposure can reduce you and your family’s risk of lung cancer.
If you live in a second floor unit or higher, it is unlikely that you and your family are being exposed to significant levels of radon in your home.
The only way to know for sure is to test your living space(s).

Is there a test for radon?
Yes. Tenants, landlords, and homeowners have an easy and affordable option to test the level of radon in their home. Air Chek Inc. has sold over 4,000,000 radon tests worldwide. The Illinois Department of Public Health referrals for the test kit get the customer a major discount, which normally costs $14.95.
Those interested in purchasing the radon test can access the discount by phone, online, or through the mail. With the discount, each kit is $6.95. Call 800.247.2435 and ask for the Illinois discount or go online to il.radon.com for online or mailing instructions. Each test kit ordered includes the testing kit itself, testing instructions, shipping to and back, cost of lab work and reporting of results to you.

Asthma – FAQ

Child properly using asthma inhaler and spacer.

What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs that makes it very difficult to breathe. The small and medium airways swell and fill with mucus when they come into contact with certain environmental allergens. In some cases asthma can cause death. Asthma cannot be cured but it can be controlled through medications and cleaning up your environment.

What allergens found in the home can cause asthma?
Dust mites are a common allergen that can trigger an asthma attack. Dust mites can be found in carpets, drapes, overstuffed furniture and bedding and the result of poor air sealing of windows and doors can allow outside dust into the home.
Other common household hazards that can trigger asthma attacks are:
* Leaking plumbing and roofs; water damaged areas
* Poor ventilation in bathrooms and kitchens
* Basements and crawlspaces without proper drainage or moisture control
* Infestations of cockroaches, mice and rats can cause allergic reactions
* Extreme temperature shifts, either hot or cold, can trigger asthma attacks

Many of these conditions are violations of the building code. Learn how to enforce your right to a healthier home here.

Does the landlord have to provide heat and air-conditioning if I have asthma?
The landlord must provide heat from heat September 15 – June 1. The landlord must maintain the following minimum temperatures:
68 degrees from 8:30 am to 10:30 pm
66 degrees from 10:30 pm – 8:30 am
The landlord is not required to provide air-conditioning.

Learn more about Healthy Home Healthy Child: The Westside Children’s Asthma Partnership

Indoor Air Quality & Smoking

The new Chicago Clean Indoor Air Ordinance was signed into law on Feb. 13, 2008 and supersedes the Smoke Free Illinois Act. The new law is intended to protect patrons and workers against the dangers of secondhand smoke.

As of February 13, 2008 smoking is prohibited in:

  • All enclosed workplaces;
  • All restaurants;
  • All bars;
  • All healthcare facilities;
  • Public places including government buildings, convention facilities, laundromats, public transportation facilities and shopping malls;
  • Public restrooms, lobbies, reception areas, hallways and other common use areas in public buildings, apartment buildings and condominium buildings;
  • Within 15 feet of the entrance to enclosed public places;
  • Recreational areas including enclosed sports arenas, stadiums, swimming pools, ice and roller rinks, arcades and bowling alleys; and
  • City government vehicles.

Regulations, Fines & Fees

The Department of Public Health and the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing will monitor compliance with the ordinance during routine inspections. The City will also respond to complaints made to 311. Individuals who are smoking in areas prohibited by the ordinance are guilty of an infraction punishable by fines of up to $250.

More About the New Ordinance

The updated Chicago Clean Indoor Air Ordinance was passed by the Chicago City Council in January 2008. It replaces current law, passed in December 2005 and supersedes the Smoke Free Illinois Act. The new law is intended to protect the health of patrons and workers against the dangers of tobacco smoke, including secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is known to cause cancer and heart disease, and “safe” levels of secondhand smoke have not been identified.

Full Text of the Chicago Clean Indoor Air Ordinance of 2008