If you’re not all that familiar with radon, you’re not alone. Many homeowners have never heard of radon and yet 1 out of 15 homes are affected by the colorless, odorless, tasteless gas. While questions still remain over the quantities and length of exposure, radon concerns are a fact of home ownership. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated January as National Radon Action Month, a time when homeowners are encouraged to learn about the dangers of radon exposure and take action to protect their homes through radon testing and radon mitigation.
What is Radon?
Radon is a class-A carcinogen. Other class-A carcinogens include asbestos, arsenic, and formaldehyde. The rocks and soil beneath our homes contain traces of uranium. Over time, the uranium breaks down and forms other elements. This is called radioactive decay. Radon is one link in the decay chain of uranium. When radon gas decays, it emits radioactive radiation in the form of an alpha particle. It’s present in nearly all soils, and very low levels of radon are found in the air we breathe every day.
When radon forms outdoors, it dissipates when it reaches the air and is no longer a problem. When it builds beneath your home, it has nowhere to go except inside your home. Although it can seep directly through pores in concrete, the worst entry points are gaps in walls and floors. Any house, of any age, in any state can have elevated radon levels. It really depends on the way your specific house interacts with the surrounding soil. Your neighbor’s radon level may differ significantly from yours. Radon underneath the home rises because the air pressure inside your home is lower than the pressure outside. This difference draws the radon upward, creating a problem inside the house.
The Health Risks
Radon exposure causes an average of 26,000 deaths per year. One person dies from exposure every 25 minutes. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after cigarette use, and is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Only 15% of lung cancer patients live longer than five years after diagnosis. You will never see, taste or smell radon in your home. So testing, or measuring, is the only way to know with certainty that there are elevated levels of radon in the house. Radon on its own has no health symptoms, but if an occupant develops lung cancer, they may notice symptoms like difficulty breathing, chest pains, hoarseness and a persistent cough.
Prevention and Mitigation
Exposure to radon is a preventable and testing radon levels in your home can help prevent unnecessary exposure. If a high radon level is detected in your home, you can take steps to fix the problem to protect yourself and your family. Radon test kits can be found online or in home improvement stores. Follow the directions on the packaging for the proper placement of the device and where to send the device after the test to find out your radon level.
Radon testing or measuring is conducted at the lowest level of living in the home. One to two machines are placed in strategic areas, and the measurement can take two or more days. 12 hours before the test, do not open your windows and limit door usage. During the test, follow the same instructions. The goal is to get the most accurate reading of what is emitted from the soil beneath your home. Windows and doors allow air inside and skew the test results.
Mitigation means merely removing the unwanted build-up of radon. This is achieved by using a fan system to divert the radon into a pipe that draws the radon upward where it is released into the air above the home. From there it dissipates and is no longer a threat. This type of mitigation system is known as active soil depressurization (ASD).
If your test results come back at a level that warrants mitigation, find a certified radon mitigation company. After analyzing your home and test results, they will come back with an estimate and plan on the best way to mitigate your radon problem. Ensure that you retest the home after the system is installed to make sure the radon is removed, and continue to retest the house every few years.
Please visit the EPA website for more information about National Radon Action Month.