Uranium is a radioactive element that is found to varying degrees in soil, rock and water in every part of the country. As uranium breaks down it releases a tasteless, odorless and colorless gas called radon. Radon also has radioactive properties, and has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer.
Since it is undetectable to the human senses and its effects don’t show up for years, radon can be present in industrial buildings as well as residential homes without the occupant’s knowledge. Fortunately, if radon is elevated, it doesn’t have to stay that way: There are simple ways to find out the radon level in your building and solutions available to correct the problem.
Health Effects of Radon Exposure
The primary health risk of radon exposure is a significantly increased rate of lung cancer. This risk is exponentially higher for people who smoke, and radon exposure also poses an increased danger to children who grow up in a contaminated home. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are approximately 21,000 radon-induced lung cancer deaths per year, with roughly 2,900 of these deaths occurring in patients who had never smoked.
Certain areas of the United States have a higher incidence of increased radon levels than others. The EPA has collected data for each state and has determined which zones have an increased rate of these elevated levels. This information is available in map form here. It is important to keep in mind that an individual building may not reflect the trend of the region: A home in a high radon area my test low, and the reverse situation could also be true, so testing is always necessary.
Testing for Radon
The only way to know if radon is present in a building and at what level is to test for it. Home radon testing kits are easy to use and are widely available for purchase online and in home improvement stores for reasonable prices. Many state health departments also offer testing kits either free of charge or for a discounted price; check with the individual state to find out their specific program.
The testing process is simple. There are a few different kinds of kits available, but all function by collecting a sample of indoor air, usually at the lowest level of the building. The sample is then sent off to a laboratory to be analyzed, with the results reported to the homeowner as soon as they are available.
Test kits come in both short-term and long-term options. Short-term tests take as little as two days to collect a sufficient sample while long-term kits take at least 90 days. Since levels of radon can vary from season to season or even day to day, performing a long-term test will yield the most reliable results. The benefit of a short-term test is receiving a quick result, but it should always be followed up by another short-term test or by a long-term one for the most accurate reading.
Home radon detectors are also available for constant monitoring. These devices function in a similar manner to smoke or carbon monoxide detectors. However, they do not replace a test for an initial reading, and they are also fairly expensive.
How to Find a Professional
While there is information available for homeowners to do radon mitigation themselves, the risk of not fixing the problem correctly or even making it worse is very real. Hiring a professional radon remediation contractor is the best solution. The EPA recommends that contractors be certified either at the state or national level. Two national certification programs, The American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists and National Radon Safety Board (NRSB), are privately run and can supply references for reputable contractors.
A simple online search will yield results for local contractors. There are also websites that offer customer reviews and recommendations for contractors that have done quality work. Since not all remediation services may be certified, it is worthwhile to check the certification status of the individual contractor to ensure they meet the recommended standards.
Correcting Radon Leaks
A radon test reading of 4.0 pCi/L or higher is considered to be an unsafe level, and steps must be taken to correct the problem. In almost every case, a building can have its radon problems fixed in a relatively short time; an average-sized house can be done in as little as one day.The National Radon Program Services states the average national cost for professional radon mitigation is $1,200, with a range of $800 to $1,500, depending on the specific situation and area of the country.
The most common radon remediation solutions include installing fans and a piping network, which cause the radon to flow outside. An area under the building is depressurized by installing suction pits, and the radon gas is drawn through the piping system and fans, re-routing the radon far enough away from the building to prevent re-entry. To view a detailed image of what a mitigation system looks like, see this website.
Elevated radon levels pose serious long-term health risks, and today is the best time to take action to lower those risks. By beginning the process of testing and if necessary, mitigation, these dangers can be reduced or eliminated completely. Taking advantage of the many resources and programs available can help make this important task much easier.