Elisa Shackelton: How much radon is your family being exposed to?
December 28, 2007
Craig — Although there are critics who claim the radon problem is nothing but hype, every major health organization has found that long-term radon exposure causes cancer.
These include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Lung Association, the American Medical Association and the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers noticed a high incidence of lung cancer in uranium miners, and subsequent studies on rodents confirmed the results.
Critics will point out that miners were exposed to a higher level of radon than most people would have in their home, but health organizations believe that while the level of radon is important, the length of exposure is more significant.
A miner might be exposed to a high level of radon for eight hours per day, but a homemaker might be exposed to a lower level for 18 hours per day or more. Researchers estimate that the same negative effects are likely due to the increased exposure time in the home. Additionally, because the home is sealed, the colder months can produce higher radon levels. The same applies to a home closed in the summer because of air conditioning.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. and is associated with up to 22,000 lung cancer deaths per year. Radon is commonly found in the air and water, where it poses little risk. But the radon that creeps into your home from the soil can pose a much greater risk.
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Many home inspectors are performing radon testing as part of their routine. This means that radon has had an effect on both home sellers and buyers.
What most people don’t realize is that there are proven methods to reduce the level of radon in their home. The first step is to test. Short-term radon test kits can be purchased at most hardware stores for about $10, and generally the initial test takes only a few days. Be sure to note whether this includes the lab reading and a prepaid return mailer. A long-term test will yield more accurate results, reflecting the annual radon exposure level in a home, and will take at least 90 days, but 6 months to a year is recommended. Expect to pay $20 to $40 for a long-term test kit.
If a neighbor’s home has a low level of radon, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t test your own residence. The Pennsylvania house that started the whole residential radon testing movement in the 1980s was found to have a level of 2600 pCi/l, while homes on the same block had levels less than 4 pCi/l. The EPA recommends that all homes be fixed to levels below 2.0 pCi/l. Things that can affect a home’s radon level include the uranium content of soil and rock below and surrounding the house, the home’s construction features, the lifestyle of the home’s occupants, etc.
While various radon removal methods exist, one reduction method has proven to reduce radon levels by up to 99 percent. Known as the sub-slab depressurization, a small fan sucks air from under the home and sends the radon gas through a pipe to the outside before it has a chance to enter the home. Consumers can expect to pay anywhere from $800 to about $3,000 to have a radon mitigation system installed in their home, and building radon out during new construction is also possible, costing closer to $300. Many proactive communities across the nation now require radon-resistant new construction techniques as part of their building code.
Through a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment radon grant, Northwest Colorado residents in Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties can get free short and long-term radon test kits, while supplies last, from their CSU County Extension Office.
Contact Elisa Shackelton in Moffat County for more information related to radon and radon testing, 539 Barclay, 824-9180. Continuing education credits are also available for housing professionals interested in learning more about radon.