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Radon Gas Hazards and How to Mitigate Them

Written by Grayson Thrush

Radon is an extremely dangerous threat to humans because of the fact that it is not only deadly; it is also impossible to detect without proper dedicated equipment and professional help. Radon is a radioactive gas that is both odorless and colorless that forms when radium decays in the ground. Radon gas occurs as naturally as oxygen, and it diffuses harmlessly outdoors. Indoors however, such as in a home, radon can become concentrated in the ambient environment.

Radon gas is one of the leading causes of lung cancer, second only to cigarette smoke. It can also induce gastrointestinal problems and/or stomach cancer. Although as yet unproven, radon gas is thought to also cause fatigue, headaches, asthma, allergies and rashes. Radon is dangerous to all people. It is especially dangerous to young children and the elderly. It is also very dangerous to those individuals whom are immunosuppressed, such as HIV/AIDS patients and others.

Radon enters homes through sump pumps, basements, crawl spaces and anywhere else there is stagnant air in a home. Since humans cannot detect the presence of radon gas, each and every home should be tested. Testing kits are available at most major home improvement stores. To err on the side of caution, a professional radon mitigation specialist should be hired to thoroughly test a home. If radon is found to be present, a mitigation system should be professionally installed. Radon alarms are also available, which will sound an alarm if radon gas is detected. To be safe, hire a professional radon mitigation specialist in order to be certain that you and your family are protected from this potentially deadly carcinogen.

Radon in the Home

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Surveys show that homes in most Colorado counties have the potential for radon levels above EPA’s recommended action level. Because radon levels are influenced by a variety of factors—soil type and moisture, how “tight” the home is, type of heating and ventilation system, movement of air and groundwater, air pressure, and lifestyle behavior of the occupants—the only way to know if a home has elevated levels of radon is to test it. 

All homes in Colorado should be tested for radon. Only individual testing can determine which houses may have a radon problem. You cannot base your radon level on a neighbor’s test result. Every house is different. Measuring radon levels in the home is simple and inexpensive. Test kits include complete instructions and return postage for mailing samples back to the lab for analysis. 

Short-term detectors (such as charcoal canisters) are used for two to seven days. They provide quick screening measurements indicating potential radon problems. Short-term detectors should be placed in the lowest livable level of the house, preferably during winter. Long-term detectors (such as alpha track detectors) are left in place for three months to one year. They provide the advantage of averaging seasonal variations associated with radon levels. Long-term detectors are generally placed in main living areas. 

Radon test kits cost from $10 to $25 for a short-term kit and $25 to $40 for a long-term kit. Test kits are available from hardware and home improvement stores, or through mail order companies. Many communities provide free test kits at county offices, senior citizen centers or other locations. 

When buying a test kit, select one approved or listed by the EPA and follow the instructions carefully. If you do a short-term test, close windows and outside doors and keep them closed as much as possible during the testing period. Instructions are specific as to placement and the importance of not disturbing the test kit while it is monitoring the radon level of a home. 

Homes that have a basement or combination slab-on-grade and crawlspace should be tested in each area due to potential differences in radon levels. Generally, radon levels are highest in the lower levels of the home. For this reason, some homeowners prefer to test in the basement and first floor, especially if they are used for living and sleeping spaces. 

Once the test is finished, reseal or close the container and send it to the lab specified on the package right away. The lab fee for interpreting the results is usually included in the original cost of the kit. You may choose to have radon measurements performed by a professional. 

(Source: "Radon in the Home," Tremblay)