January is National Radon Action Month: Test Your Home and Protect Your Health

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is over and here in Wisconsin, the weather is cold. Our doors and windows are closed, and that’s one of the first steps in getting good results from a radon test.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer.

Radon is a radioactive gas that results from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer overall and the leading cause in non-smokers. The EPA estimates that as many as 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year are caused by radon. Radon is colorless and odorless, and the only way to know if your home has a problem is to test for it.

By now you are asking, “What does radon have to do with the Forest Products Laboratory?” Radon was detected in the basement of the FPL’s Research Demonstration House, an unoccupied residential structure built in 2001 on a permanent wood foundation. This discovery took place during a case study focused on estimating the rate of moisture infiltration from soil surrounding the basement foundation. Initial test results showed an average of 8.7 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of radon in the basement of the house during winter – far above the EPA action level guideline of 4 pCi/L. Researchers C.R. Boardman and Samuel V. Glass took advantage of the installation of the radon mitigation equipment to validate the moisture infiltration model used to estimate the rate of moisture entry. In a  follow-up study, they monitored both moisture infiltration and radon levels for 1 year. The active soil depressurization system, a standard radon mitigation technique, reduced basement radon levels to below 1 pCi/L and reduced moisture infiltration by over 75% during the winter. The final in-depth report, “Basement Radon Entry and Stack Driven Moisture Infiltration Reduced by Active Soil Depressurization,” was recently published in the February 2015 edition of Building and Environment.

The EPA and the U.S. Surgeon General recommend testing all homes for radon. If levels are high, take steps to lower them. Reliable techniques exist for reducing radon levels in homes. Research by public and private agencies, years of extensive hands-on mitigation experience, and long-term follow-up studies on the durability of radon mitigation systems have formed a strong knowledge base of proven mitigation techniques for homes, schools, and commercial buildings. The techniques are straightforward, and for a typical single-family residence, can be done in one day by a qualified contractor.

Take a step to protect your health and purchase a radon test kit or hire a contractor today.

To learn more about radon, visit http://www.epa.gov/radon/ and see http://www.epa.gov/radon/whereyoulive.html to locate your state radon program.

Congratulations to Dr. Robert J. Ross 2014 Felix Ponder Award of Excellence Recipient

Dr. Robert J. (Bob) Ross of the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) was awarded the 2014 Felix Ponder Award of Excellence today by FPL and Northern Research Station Director Michael T. Rains. Ross is a Supervisory Research General Engineer and the Project Leader of FPL’s Engineering Properties of Wood, Wood Based Materials and Structures Research Work Unit. He is also an ST (Senior) scientist, which is the highest level that a federal research scientist can achieve. There are only three ST scientists among the 60 scientists at FPL.

“Thanks to all of you, and all you do,” a surprised Ross said. “I really don’t know what to say. So many people do so much more and are more deserving.”

Dr. Robert J. Ross

Dr. Robert J. Ross

During a conference call with NRS and FPL employees, Rains cited just a few of Ross’ endeavors outside the workplace as among the many reasons why “he should be a role model for all of us,” and why Ross “was such a worthy recipient of this honor.”

Ross has served as Project Leader for several Research Work Units at FPL, including its physical and mechanical proprieties testing unit, since 1988. His current research focus is the development and use of nondestructive evaluation technologies for various wood products and structures, from standing trees to historic buildings and ships. He has written or co-authored more than 200 technical reports/articles about nondestructive evaluation and jointly holds 24 U.S. and foreign patents.

In addition to being a science leader, Bob is very supportive of employees with special needs. In collaboration with the Madison Area Rehabilitation Center, Bob has sponsored employees with special needs for a number of years and has fully integrated them into his work unit. He is also very active in the Williamson – Marquette Neighborhood Center (WilMar), where he and other FPL employees prepare a meal on the first Saturday of every month for needy Madison residents. Bob donates significant time and money to Port Saint Vincent de Paul, a shelter that functions as a “port in the storm of life” for low-income men. He is also very active in St. Coletta of Wisconsin, which provides residential and vocational programs for people with developmental disabilities.

This award honors the late Dr. Felix Ponder, Jr., who was a soil scientist with the Forest Service Northern Research Station for more than 30 years. Dr. Ponder combined excellence in science with deep commitment to making a difference in people’s lives. Dr. Ponder worked for 18 years on the campus of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., serving three years as project leader of the second research work unit in the nation located on the campus of a historically black college or university. His work with students was instrumental in drawing people into natural resource careers.

Ross was presented with a handcrafted walnut pen-and-pencil set which had special significance to Dr. Ponder.


Be Good to Your Christmas Tree And it will be good to you ...


Each year over 30 million Christmas trees will be sold in the U.S. Mother Nature’s kind. The real, beautiful, ever-green, ever-aromatic centerpiece of our holiday season. They will dress up our houses and maybe most important, will be the landing point for all manner of goodies when Santa pays his annual visit — assuming, of course, we were good this year.

Which is why it is vitally important to take good care of your tree, because a tree that goes unloved and uncared for can be deadly. We don’t want to throw water on the celebration, but facts are facts. Actually, maybe we do want to throw water on the celebration, or at least at the tree.

Simply keeping your tree properly watered significantly decreases the chances of a catastrophic fire in your home. Not convinced? Take a few seconds to watch this eye-opening video courtesy of the National Fire Protection Association. Wow.

While you’re at it, try to spend a few more minutes looking through these excellent basic tips for proper tree care brought to you by Purdue University.

If you don’t have a few minutes the easy-to-follow instructions below could mean the difference between a joyous holiday season and a really, really bad one.

  • Find a tree with pliable needles that stay on the branches.
  • Cut 1/2 inch from the end of the trunk, and use a tree stand that can hold plenty of cool water.
  • Water often. Be sure to keep the water level above the tree base, otherwise the end of the tree will seal, preventing additional water from entering the tree.
  • Keep the tree at least 3 feet away from any heat source and don’t let it block any exits.
  • And it goes without saying that candles should never be used on or near the tree.

And stop by our website for more information about past and present fire safety research at FPL.

Be safe and enjoy your tree!