Posted by: Patricia Hysong | January 23, 2012

January is National Radon Action Month

What is radon?

Radon comes from the natural decay of uranium in soil, rock, and water. It is an odorless, colorless and tasteless radioactive gas that occurs naturally throughout Wyoming, the United States and the rest of the world. When the uranium breaks down the radioactive gas produced gets into the air we breathe, into our homes, workplaces and schools. Inside these buildings, the radon becomes trapped and levels can build up. Although newer homes can be built with radon-resistant features, any home or building can have radon problems and even new construction that was built radon-resistant should be tested after it has been occupied.

What are potential health risks of radon?

Radioactive particles from radon decaying can get trapped in our lungs when we breathe. As those inhaled particles break down further, small bursts of energy are released.  Damage to lung tissue and lung cancer can occur. Although not everyone that comes into contact with high radon levels will develop lung cancer and other factors such as duration of exposure and exposure levels play a part in that, the Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. 20,000+ lung cancer deaths yearly are attributable to radon in the U.S.  

How does radon get into buildings?

Radon gas is mainly released from soil, but it can also come from well water. Building materials can also give off radon but the levels are typically not high enough to cause problems by themselves.  The most common ways for radon to get in buildings is through the air by way of:

  1. Cracks in solid floors
  2. Construction joints
  3. Cracks in walls
  4. Gaps in suspended floors
  5. Gaps around service pipes
  6. Cavities inside walls

It is estimated that nearly 1 in 15 U.S. homes has elevated radon levels. The only way to know if your home has high levels is to test for it.

How to test your home, workplaces, or school for radon levels?

All buildings should be tested for radon. Testing you home is relatively easy and not very time consuming. The amount of radon in the air is measured in “picocuries per liter of air,” or “pCi/L.” You can get pick up one of many different kinds of low-cost “do-it-yourself” test kits through the mail or in hardware and retail stores or you can hire a qualified tester to do the test for you. There are two general ways to test for radon: short-term testing and long-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 the year-round average radon level in your home. 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 tests remain in your home for more than 90 days. “Alpha track” and “electret” detectors are commonly used for this type of testing. A long-term test will give you a reading that is more likely to tell you your home’s year-round average radon level than a short-term test.

EPA Recommends the Following Testing Steps:

Step 1.  Take a short-term test. If your result is 4 pCi/L or higher take a follow-up test (Step 2) to be sure.

Step 2.  Follow up with either a long-term test or a second short-term test:

  • For a better understanding of your year-round average radon level, take a long-term test.
  • If you need results quickly, take a second short-term test.

The higher your initial short-term test result, the more certain you can be that you should take a short-term rather than a long-term follow up test. If your first short-term test result is more than twice EPA’s 4 pCi/L action level, you should take a second short-term test immediately.

Step 3.  If you followed up with a long-term test: Fix your home if your long-term test result is 4 pCi/L or more. If you followed up with a second short-term test: The higher your short-term results, the more certain you can be that you should fix your home. Consider fixing your home if the average of your first and second test is 4 pCi/L or higher.

Radon can also be a problem in schools and workplaces. Ask your state radon office about radon problems in schools, daycare/childcare facilities, and workplaces in your area.

How to lower radon levels in your home?

Lowering high radon levels requires technical knowledge and special skills. You should use a contractor who is trained to fix radon problems. A qualified contractor can study the radon problem in your home and help you pick the right treatment method. Picking someone to fix your radon problem is much like choosing a contractor for other home repairs – you may want to get references and more than one estimate.

There are several proven methods to reduce radon in your home, but the one primarily used is a vent pipe system and fan, which pulls radon from beneath the house and vents it to the outside. This system, known as a soil suction radon reduction system, does not require major changes to your home. Sealing foundation cracks and other openings makes this kind of system more effective and cost-efficient. Similar systems can also be installed in houses with crawl spaces. Radon contractors can use other methods that may also work in your home. The right system depends on the design of your home and other factors.

You should also test your home again after it is fixed to be sure that radon levels have been reduced. Most soil suction radon reduction systems include a monitor that will indicate whether the system is operating properly. In addition, it’s a good idea to retest your home every two years to be sure radon levels remain low.

This information is provided courtesy of the Wyoming AgrAbility Project. For more information, visit our website or call toll-free at 866-395-4986.

This information is adapted from Radon Levels for Wyoming and A Citizen’s Guide to Radon.

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