As I was reading the local newspaper I saw an article on radon with an offer to get a free radon test kit. The article said that radon is colorless, odorless, and invisible but it can give you lung cancer.
Well, that certainly got my attention, since I have had asthma since childhood and I’m pretty cautious when anything may affect my lungs. Especially something I can’t see, smell, and is a gas that emanates from the ground. If you are health conscious it can keep you awake at night wondering as you breathe deeply as you sleep if you are inhaling a deadly gas. That is like telling someone that science has determined that saliva causes cancer so don’t swallow.
So what is radon? Radon is a cancer causing radioactive gas that comes from the decay of uranium which is present in almost all soils. It can be found all over the USA and is more prevalent in some localities than others.
Becauseit is colorless, tasteless and odorless, it is easy to chalk it up to “nothing to worry about”. That could be a mistake, because there are 21,000 deaths attributed to radon each year (compared to 17,400 drunk-driving deaths).
It can be in any home or building and it typically leaches up from the ground. If it is trapped in a structure and builds up, it is breathed into your lungs. It is estimated that nearly one in fifteen homes has an elevated level of radon. While radon problems may be more common in some areas any home can have a problem and it is best to test. Our local county environmental department provides a free test kit - all you have to do is go get it. There is also a map that you can look at found here where you can check your specific state and county.
When I checked our county, I found we were in a moderate zone, which means we have between 2-4 picocuries per liter of air or (pCi/L). Anything above 4 should be long-term tested or tested a second time for accuracy and if it remains over 4 pCi/L, then mitigation should be explored.
Radon mitigation is not difficult in most cases but simply a venting system with an exhaust fan that will keep it from building up in your home. Your home could be new, old, or anything in between and have a radon problem. You can test yourself with a free kit or one you order online, or have it tested by a professional that is well versed in radon testing and mitigation.
Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As these particles break down further, they release small bursts of energy which can damage your lungs and lead to lung cancer.
Not everyone exposed to high levels of radon will develop lung cancer, and it may occur over a lifetime. Smoking combined with radon is a particularly serious health problem, and smokers have a much higher risk than nonsmokers. While there is no conclusive data, it is believed that children also have a higher risk due to less developed immune systems.
Example: 4 pCi/L in nonsmokers has about 7 out of 1,000 people that could get lung cancer. In smokers, that statistic goes up to about 62 people who could get lung cancer. As the pCi/L goes up, the risk goes up exponentially. Although some scientists question the precise number of people affected there is agreement among all health organizations that radon is a problem when levels exceed 4 pCi/L.
The normal level of radon in the outdoors is 1.3 pCi/L and while the authorities would like structures to have the same level it presently isn’t required or realistic. While much is known about radon, there is still apparently more to learn. What is known is that some people are susceptible to lung cancer when exposed to radon long term and others are not.
Since the test kits are either free or very low cost, it just makes sense to test your abode to see if you are in a high radon area. Mitigation can resolve issues and then there can be peace of mind and should you decide to sell at some point there won’t be any last minute surprises.
I read in the newspaper article that approximately 50% of the homes in Colorado have radon. Then as I was doing research for this article, I read that could actually go as high as 70%. Putting all the material aside, it just seems that the way to be sure is to test and if needed test again.
Dealing with radon reminds me of the time the story was going around that only male mosquitoes buzz and the males don’t bite you. The females don’t buzz and, therefore, when you don’t hear anything, you should worry about getting bit. Of course, that is not entirely true, but I can see the analogy, as it could also apply to radon. It's just better to test and be sure because if you do need to mitigate it is not that difficult and then you will have a safe environment where you can live without fear.
Resources: Environmental Protection Agency's radon page
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