By Karla Simon, Industrial Hygienist, U.S. Army Public Health CommandJanuary 5, 2015
January is National Radon Action Month. The Environmental Protection Agency has launched the "Test Your Home, Protect Your Health" campaign to educate the public about how easy it can be to kick radon out before and after a home, school or worksite is built.
The EPA estimates that nearly one out of every 15 homes in the United States has elevated radon levels. Although radon is a naturally occurring gas, it is radioactive. According to the EPA, exposure to radon in the home is responsible for an estimated 20,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year. Radon is colorless, odorless and tasteless. This invisible enemy can only be detected by testing.
Test for Radon
There is no known safe level of exposure to radon. What can you do to protect yourself and your family? Test for radon. This is accomplished by measuring the levels of radon gas. It is a relatively easy and inexpensive process.
Most often, the radon in your home's indoor air can come from two sources, the soil underneath your house or your water supply. Radon migration through the soil into the lowest level of your home is the main cause of radon problems. However, if you have a private well, consider testing for radon in both air and water. The devices and procedures for testing your home's water supply are different from those used for measuring radon in the air.
Test kits are available at most hardware stores for about $20--$30. Some state programs offer low-cost or free kits. Those who are not comfortable performing the radon test can find a qualified contractor familiar with radon to do the testing for them.
The amount of radon gas in the air is measured in picocuries (pronounced pee-co-curries) per liter of air or pCi/L. The EPA has set an "Action Level" for radon gas of 4.0 picocuries. However, the EPA strongly recommends that you take immediate action to fix your home, school or workplace if the results from the radon test show 4.0 pCi/L or more. Elevated radon levels can cause lung cancer. If your test level shows between 2 and 4 pCi/L, consider making changes to reduce the amount of radon levels.
Here are some steps you can take to prevent and reduce radon levels in your home:
1. The EPA recommends that you test your home every two years or after home renovations to monitor radon levels.
2. If you are building a new home, school or business, ask about radon-resistant construction.
3. If elevated levels of radon are detected, repair any problems with the foundation. Seal cracks and other openings around pipes and drains.
4. Cover any exposed earthen walls.
5. Paint concrete floors with a sealant.
6. Maintain the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in your home. Have them serviced to ensure proper operation.
7. If confirmed high levels are found in the air, have a radon reduction system installed. Consult with a qualified professional to determine the best system dependent on the foundation type: basement, slab-on-grade, or crawlspace.
8. If elevated levels of radon are detected in your water supply, treat the water at the point of entry or at the point of use. It may require that you have a water treatment system installed to remove the radon before it enters the building or right before it comes out of the tap.