January was National Radon Action Month. I must apologize for missing that opportunity to post something on radon. However, it is never too late to take action against radon, any day, any month, anytime of the year.
But what is radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It is colorless, odorless, tasteless -and is carcinogenic. This means you can’t really know it is there but this carcinogen is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers in America and claims the lives of about 20,000 Americans each year, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Radon is released when uranium, a naturally-existing radioactive chemical in soil, rocks and water decays naturally and gets into the air we breathe. The link between lung cancer and radon was first observed in miners who were exposed to the gas underground. However, high amounts of radon can also be found above the ground. A radon concentration level of 4 pCi/L is considered to be hazardous to our health.
How do you get exposed to radon?
Radon exposure can happen anywhere – in offices, schools, and yes – at home. And because home is where people spend most of their time, that is also the place where radon exposure is the greatest. The closer a room is to the ground, the higher is the risk for radon to seep inside. That is why the EPA and the Surgeon General recommend that all homes below the third floor should be tested for radon. Basements are especially at risk.
- The two main sources of radon are soil and water. Radon is the soil presents a greater risk because it can easily seep out into the air we breathe. The gas gets into the building through Cracks in solid floors
- Construction joints
- Cracks in walls
- Gaps in suspended floors
- Gaps around service pipes
- Cavities inside walls
Radon also occurs in ground water, such as wells and water supplies using ground water. However, research has shown that your risk of lung cancer from breathing radon in air is much larger than your risk of stomach cancer from swallowing water with radon in it.
Radon is found in all 50 states of the US but with varying levels. The EPA has a map showing radon potential zones. You can check out the potential radon levels of your state in the EPA site.
How do you check for the presence of radon in your home?
Unless you test for it, there is no way of telling how much radon is present in a building. The EPA recommends that each home be tested for radon. Radon test kits are available commercially and are usually easy to use. Radon testing can be done two ways, namely:
- Short-term testing. The quickest way to test is with short-term tests. Short-term tests remain in your home for two days to 90 days, depending on the device. “Charcoal canisters,” “alpha track,” “electret ion chamber,” “continuous monitors,” and “charcoal liquid scintillation” detectors are most commonly used for short-term testing. Because radon levels tend to vary from day to day and season to season, a short-term test is less likely than a long-term test to tell you your year-round average radon level. If you need results quickly, however, a short-term test followed by a second short-term test may be used to decide whether to fix your home
- Long-term testing. In this type of test, the radon detectors are installed for more than 90 days. This gives a more accurate assessment of average radon levels as they vary from day to day and from season to season. “Alpha track” and “electret” detectors are commonly used for this type of testing.
What happens if your home tests positive for radon?
The EPA recommends that a short-term test be performed first. If the radon levels is 4 pCi/L or more, then a second short-term test or a long-term term test is necessary. If subsequent tests show persistent high levels of radon, it doesn’t mean to say that the house is completely worthless and unliveable. There are radon reduction systems which can reduce radon levels in a building to acceptable levels, even up to 99%. The most common method is some of a ventilator pipe and fan system which sucks out the radon from the building and releases it outside. It also helps to seal cracks in the floor and walls and other opening where radon can possibly seep through. Other systems, however, may be necessary depending on the structure and design of the house.
National Radon Action Month
The EPA has recommended four things you can do during National Radon Action Month which are however valid anytime of the year.
- Test your home.
- Attend a National Radon Action Month event in your area.
- Spread the word. Buy a radon-resistant home.
The International Radon Project
Radon testing is common in the US and other developed countries but not in many other parts of the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) launched the International Radon Project in 2005. Through a network of partner agencies of member countries, WHO will “collect and analyse information on radon risk, radon policies, radon mitigation and prevention as well as risk communication.”
For more information about radon, check out the following links:
Picture credits: EPA, International Radon Project, Stock.xchng