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Get Rid of Radon 
by J.A. Luongo August 24, 2005

Radon gas poses serious health risks. Next to smoking, it is the second leading cause of lung cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that close to 20,000 lung cancer deaths in the US yearly are attributed to residential radon exposure.

Non-smokers beware: The US Surgeon General announced that 20,000 Americans die of radon-related lung cancer each year. Radon gas trapped in homes is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Worldwide radon causes over 15% of all lung cancer diagnosed yearly.

Isn't Radon Testing a Scam?

Despite the serious, and fatal health risks of exposure to radon, few home owners get this checked. One possible reason is that radon testing was, for a short time, plagued by fraudulent testing businesses. However, because of the serious health risks of radon gas, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the individual statewide Departments of Environmental Protection have regulated the testing of homes for radon. Now, only homeowners and certified specialists are legally allowed to check for radon.

Furthermore, there was a time when homes were not air-tight and radon gas was easily dissipated into the air. So, the threat was not as prevelant. However, since the early 1980s, when home energy efficiency measure gained steam, the problem of residential radon gas has increased exponentially.

What is Radon?

Radon is radioactive gas that is completely undetectable by the five human senses. It is invisible, odorless, and tasteless. It comes from the breakdown of uranium in the soil (which first breaks down into radium and then into radon). Uranium is naturally occurring in all soil. Hence, radon is continually traveling through the soil and into the atmosphere. It becomes a problem when it gets trapped in homes and is allowed to accumulate.

What Are the Health Risks of Radon Exposure?

It has long been known that breathing radioactive material causes abnormal cell growth when exposed to internal bodily tissue, such as bronchial tissue. However, two recent scientific studies show definitive evidence between radon and lung cancer. "These findings effectively end any doubts about the risks to Americans of having radon in their homes," said Tom Kelly, Director of EPA’s Indoor Environments Division. "We know that radon is a carcinogen. This research confirms that breathing low levels of radon can lead to lung cancer."

Why Would Radon Be in My House?

Because uranium is present in all soil, radon is also present in the soil. Since radon is a gas, it naturally travels through the soil and enters homes through basement floors and walls. Particularly susceptible are homes with unfinished, rock or dirt floored basements built on loose soil. However, radon also leeches through concrete and has been found in homes without any visible cracks or fissures. Additionally, it can travel through drains. Once in the home, it breaks down into small particles that concentrate in the air throughout the home. Unfortunately, radon can not be dissipated by just opening a window or plugging in a fan.

Should I Worry About Radon?

People are spending more and more money making their homes fuel efficient. If you've done this, you know that it means your home is sealed as tightly as possible. What this means for radon is that it has no escape route. Add to that the time spent in the house - working from home, staying in to enjoy home entertainment systems, working-out with home gym equipment, and saving a buck by eating in. On average, we spend more time at home than ever before. If this sounds like you, then you should probably worry.

How Do I Know If I Have Radon?

OK, so radon's Dangerous. But, you don't know if it presents a danger to you and your family unless you get tested. There is a simple piece of equipment that tests for radon in a few days to a week. There is also more sophisticated equipment that can gather radon data over a loger period of time, up to a year.

You can test for radon with a testing device from the hardware store, home center, or even the American Lung Association. Or you can have a professionally certified radon removal specialist test your home. Any of these options are viable, however, a professional radon specialist is a safe bet. They are all state certified and adhere to strict government guidelines.

If you buy a test kit and do it yourself, it will cost about a third less than it would cost to have a professionally administered test. Place the test kit on the lowest level of your home, usually the basement. Home tests usually gather data over a 3 to 7 day period and give hourly readings of radon levels.

When is Radon Toxic?

Radon gas does exist in the air at safe levels (at 0.4pCi/L). The trouble exists when radon is trapped. Radon levels over 4 pico curies per liter (4pCi/L) are considered dangerous. If you or a radon specialist find levels higher than that, consider reducing the levels of radon in your home immediately.

How Do I Reduce the Radon Level?

The "subslab depressurization system" is the most common and effective way to reduce radon in the home. This system’s name is trickier than the technology. It’s basically PVC piping and a small fan. The piping is installed below the basement floor and run to the roof. The pipe in the basement is submerged below the basement slab and sealed. The end of the pipe that is above the eaves of the house is fitted with a small exhaust fan. This fan causes a suction that removes the gas and vents it into the atmosphere.

Should I Do It Myself or Call a Professional?

It is possible to install a radon reduction unit yourself. And, again, it will be considerably less expensive than if a professional does the job. Professional jobs can cost in the high 100s to the low 1000s. (Because some jobs are complicated, there is a wide range in the basic pricing.) If you do it yourself, it is advisable that your have experience with PVC piping and wiring.

When Should I Test Again?

If your radon levels were below 4 pCu/l the first time, it’s a good idea to test for radon levels every 2 or 3 years based on your soil and previous readings. Loose soil allows gas to travel more quickly than clay. Furthermore, if you have recently weatherized your home, if you’ve installed a central heating and air conditioning unit, if you’ve built additions in the basement or done any construction, have your radon levels checked.

It’s a simple test and it could save your life.


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