January is National Radon Action Month, Summit residents urged to get free testing kit
Gov. John Hickenlooper has once again proclaimed January as National Radon Action Month in Colorado, and homeowners are encouraged by federal, state and local officials to test their homes for radon and mitigate if necessary. Long-term exposure to elevated levels of radon is said to be the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and the second-leading cause among smokers.
“Radon is released by uranium decay in the soil, and it’s ubiquitous in the environment,” explained Maya Kulick, senior environmental health specialist at the Summit County Environmental Health department. “But when it gets trapped in a house, it gets concentrated and that’s what causes problems.”
Kelly MacGregor, public communications specialist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), said that radon could enter a home without being detected. “Radon comes out of the soil and can come into the house through cracks in the foundation, little cracks, and it’s odorless, colorless and tasteless so you wouldn’t even know it was there.”
MacGregor added that January is the best time of the year to test for radon, as the low temperature means doors and windows are usually closed, allowing for better testing conditions.
It is estimated that half of Colorado homes have radon levels above what the EPA considers actionable, which is 4.0 picoCuries or above. According to the Summit environmental health department, Summit homes average 10 picoCuries. Lung cancer is the only type of cancer associated with radon. Radon does not cause short-term symptoms of illness, but long-term exposure is said to be the cause of at least 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year.
Kulick reminds Summit residents that free radon-testing kits are available at the local environmental health department. If elevated radon is detected, the homeowner should consult a contractor for radon mitigation. The department provides a list of certified mitigation contractors, as well as more detailed information about radon, on its website.
Neither Colorado nor federal law mandates radon testing, but health officials still encourage voluntary testing for homeowners. Chrystine Kelley, radon program coordinator at CDPHE, said renters should be cognizant of radon as well.
“We recommend every home be tested, and renters should do that to make sure the property is safe,” she said. “But there is no requirement that landlords test or mitigate for radon.”
Radon mitigation involves bringing in a contractor to expel built-up radon. Summit Environmental Health manager Dan Hendershott explained the process.“What they do is drill into the concrete, put a pipe into the hole so it goes deep enough to reach below the slab, create negative pressure and then run the pipe outside and use a fan to get rid of the radon under the slab.”
The process is similar, he said, for houses with crawlspaces, except that the contractor must create an artificial barrier to trap the radon and then expel it.
Hendershott hopes the public heeds advice on radon and gets a free testing kit to ensure their home is safe. Awareness is key, he said, as many Summit residents may not know of its prevalence or dangers.
“It’s one of those things some people don’t pay attention to,” he said. “Radon seems to fall under a lot of people’s radars.”
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