Ask Eartha: January is Radon Awareness month
January 14, 2016
I keep hearing that I should test my home for radon? What is radon, and why do I need to test for it?
Thanks for your question, Joe, and a timely one, too, because January is Radon Action month. This may be why you've been hearing more about it lately. To answer your question, radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer. You can't see or smell it, but it might already be a problem in your home. Radon is emitted from the breakdown of uranium in soils and can creep up through the foundation in your home, permeate your crawlspace or fill your basement, exposing you and your loved ones, putting you at risk for lung cancer.
Although radon can be found in all 50 states, certain areas of the country have a higher average indoor radon potential based on three zones: one, two and three with one being the lowest and three being the highest. Summit County is in zone three, or the highest potential for indoor radon, screening on average higher than 4.0 picocuries. Radon is measured in picocuries per liter, representing 2.2 disintegrations per minute. Even though a picocurie is very small, if you test above 4 picocuries per liter, the EPA recommends that you re-test. Regardless of whether or not you test over 4.0 pCi/L, a second test is always recommend because air-radon levels fluctuate naturally on a daily and seasonal basis. After the second testing, if your home still tests above 4.0pCi/L, mitigation is recommended.
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Testing for radon is the only way to know if you're exposed. The EPA and Surgeon General have strongly recommended that all homes get tested for radon. Radon testing should only take a few minutes of your time and can be done with a simple test kit. Winter is a great time to test your home for radon because radon tends to be higher during the colder months while windows and doors remain closed. Free test kits are available through the end of the month. You can pick up your free test kit at the High Country Conservation Center on Frisco Main St. or the Summit County Environmental Health Office.
The test kit involves a passive collector that you place in the lowest livable floor of your home for 2 to 7 days. You then send the test kit to a laboratory for analysis and are notified several weeks later of the results. If you do test high in your home for radon, you can contact the Summit County Environmental Health office for recommendations on how to lower your exposure. High Country Conservation Center has a list of radon-mitigation contractors who can help fix the problem. Radon mitigation can be done by installing radon-reduction systems that can reduce gas up to 99 percent. This is accomplished through ventilation, either collected below a concrete floor slab or membrane in the ground or by mechanically increasing the air changes per hour in the building.
HC3 energy staff recommend that, if you have completed any air sealing and insulation upgrades in your home, you test again for radon because, unfortunately, making your home tighter can exacerbate the radon levels in your home. New homes can be built with radon-resistant techniques. However, even a new home should be tested for radon after occupancy to ensure the mitigation measures are working. If you are purchasing real estate, you can delay or decline a purchase if the seller has not successfully abated radon to less than 4 pCi/L.
For more information, visit http://www.co.summit.co.us/radon or contact High Country Conservation Center at (970) 668-5703.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.