January – National Radon Month

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For those who may not know, radon is an odorless, colorless radioactive gas formed by the natural breakdown of uranium.  It can be found in high concentrations in rock and soil containing granite, shale, phosphate and uranium, or even in fill soil containing industrial waste.

It can be present in any area, in any home.  Its source can be the radon in the soil or the building products used in a home.  Studies say that approximately one in 15 homes in the US and Canada has high levels of naturally-occurring radon gas.  Generally the potential, however, is greater in hilly or mountainous areas and lower in sandy, coastal areas.

According to various sources on the web, depending on how houses are built and ventilated, radon may accumulate in basements and dwellings. It can also seep into an indoor environment through cracks in solid floors, construction joints, cracks in walls, gaps in suspended floors, gaps around service pipes, cavities inside walls, and the water supply.  Radon concentrations in the same location may differ by a factor of two over a period of one hour. Also, the concentration in one room of a building may be significantly different than the concentration in an adjoining room.territory.

According to the EPA website (http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/citguide.html) there are two ways to test:

(1) 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 your year-round average radon level. 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.

(2) 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.

Why consider testing? According to the EPA website:

Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe.  As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy.  This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course  of your lifetime.  Not everyone exposed to elevated levels of radon will develop lung cancer.  And the amount of time between exposure and the onset of the disease may be  many years.

Like other environmental pollutants, there is some uncertainty about the magnitude of radon health risks. However, we know more about radon risks than risks from most other cancer-causing substances. This is because  estimates of radon risks are based on studies of cancer in humans (underground miners).

Smoking combined with radon is an especially serious health risk.  Stop smoking and lower your radon level to reduce your lung cancer risk.

If you are buying a home, consider a short term test.  Generally for less than $100 extra during a home inspection, you can put your mind at ease.

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