Go Green Mailbag: Radon
By Kevin Pink, Customer Service and Marketing Assistant
From time to time, we receive several inquiries about the same topic. We’ll try to address those topics in a brief, practical way in this ongoing series we call the Go Green Mailbag. This week, we discuss Radon.
Q: What is radon, why should I be concerned about it, and what can I do if my house has too much?
What is radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally in the planet’s crust. It is the product of the decay of radium in soil, rock, and water. It is colorless and odorless, and generally does not react with other substances. It can infiltrate structures through cracks in your foundation or holes in the building’s envelope, such as around construction joints or service pipes. When it enters your home, it becomes trapped, causing it to collect. Radon is heavier than air, so it becomes concentrated in lower levels of your home. Radioactive concentrations are measured in Picocuries per Liter (pCi/L), and the Environmental Protection Agency has determined 4 pCi/L to be the “action level”, at which special steps to reduce the concentration (mitigation) need to be performed. However, there is no “safe” level of radon, and action should still be considered in cases where the concentration meets or exceeds 2 pCi/L. Normal radon concentration in open air is approximately 0.4 pCi/L.
Why should I be concerned?
Radon is radioactive. It gives off the same radiation as other radioactive substances like plutonium and uranium, and is associated with the same health effects. As radioactive particles decay in your lungs, they give off small amounts of energy. Over time, this energy can damage your lung tissue and cause lung cancer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, radon accounts for approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year, more than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s estimate for drunk driving (17,400). Worse, smoking and radon work together to further increase your lung cancer risk. The EPA estimates that smokers are approximately eight times more likely than non-smokers to develop lung cancer when exposed to the same level of radon.
What can I do?
The first step is to test your home for radon. There are several ways to test for radon, so you should pick the one that works best for your situation. Home test kits can be purchased at most hardware stores or over the internet. You set up the kit in your home for a predetermined amount of time (according to the kit’s instructions) and then return it to a lab for analysis. Although CET does not offer radon test kits, the National Radon Program Services at Kansas State University offers discounted test kits. The EPA recommends running a short-term test, which lasts between two and 90 days. If that test results in a radon level higher than 4 pCi/L, you should follow up with another short-term test, or proceed to a long-term (lasting greater than 90 days) test. If follow-up tests shows levels between 2 and 4 pCi/L, you should consider contacting a professional for mitigation. At concentrations 4 pCi/L or greater, you should definitely seek the services of a professional for mitigation.
You can also reach out to either the National Radon Proficiency Program or the National Radon Safety Board, the two privately-run national radon programs, for assistance in finding a certified radon professional for testing or mitigation purposes. Radon mitigation generally involves setting up a fan and vent system to remove some of the radon in your home to the exterior.
For more information and live help with your radon questions, contact the National Radon Helpline at 1-800-557-2366.
We hope you found this post helpful and informative. Stay tuned for future installments of the Go Green Mailbag!