Radon, the Hidden Home Carcinogen
As a consumer, reading a subject line such as “Radon, the Hidden Home Carcinogen” can be frightening. Cancer is frightening and every adjective that goes along with it. Radon is a naturally occurring gas that comes from the breakdown of Uranium found in rock and soil. Radon is a radioactive gas that when breathed in, if lodged in the lung can cause lung cancer when it breaks down releasing it’s radioactive properties.
Elevated levels of radon can be found all over the world. Radon is colorless, tasteless and odorless so the only way to know if your home has elevated levels is to test. Concentrations outdoors is not a concern because the gas is diluted and not contained. When addressing radon concentrations in the home or any building that is closed to the exterior, elevated levels can occur when the radon gas becomes trapped.
A simple test can identify if your radon levels are elevated. EPA action level is 4.0pCi/L yet the EPA has concern when radon levels are between 2.0 and 4.0pCi/L where the World health Organization says to fix your home at 2.7pCi/L. Approximately 1 in 15 homes in the USA has an elevated levels of radon creating an unsafe internal environment.
Long term exposure to elevated levels of radon poses a threat of lung cancer. Smokers face an even greater risk! The only way to know if your home, workplace or school has elevated radon levels is to test the property. If levels are elevated, EPA recommends radon mitigation to fix the property. Installing a radon mitigation system to address elevated radon levels is one of the least expensive home repairs performed with the highest benefits.
Test Your Home…Protect Your Family!
My Real Estate Agent Said My Radon is Fine…
You found your dream home, had a home inspection which was unremarkable and the home inspector set a short term passive radon test. The test was in place for 48 hours with closed house conditions adhered to. Your real estate agent collected the passive test, sent it to the lab and called you to tell you the results are perfectly fine. OK, wait a minute…who collected the test? And what does your agent mean by the results are FINE!
Let’s get serious here…the professional who sets the test is the one responsible and should then collect the test. Standard protocol notes if the home inspector does not have time to collect the test when they are being paid good money for it, they should not be setting the test. A lot can happen in between setting the test and the final results. It is the home inspector’s responsibility to complete the job, have the results sent to the buyer and explain the results. Most real estate agents know radon can cause lung cancer, yet in my experience both as an NRPP Certified Radon Measurement Provider as well as a Bonded Real Estate Broker for 35+ years, most agents have very little understanding about exactly what radon is and how it affects the body. Agent awareness is growing due to buyer demand of increased knowledge.
When your agent told you the results are fine, what exactly does that mean? EPA action level is 4.0pCi/L however the EPA has concern between 2.0 and 4.0pCi/L. WHO, World Health Organization, says to fix your home at 2.7pCi/L. If your levels are within the 2.0 and 4.0pCi/L range, you may want to consider installing a radon mitigation system. Make sure you ask what the radon levels are specifically and if you have questions that require in depth answers, call a professional radon measurement provider or call a firm that handles radon testing to explain in further detail so you can make an intelligent decision. Without a specific level, FINE is not an adequate answer when spending the most amount of money you will ever spend at one time.
Test Your Home…Protect Your Family
Building, Blasting and Radon
The new construction rage is being seen throughout communities these days with luxury town homes and McMansions being built while older homes are being torn down to make room. Buyers want new with all the bells and whistles of modern conveniences. Some may require blasting of ledge to make room for these new homes which jostles the earth and the underlying rock formations. This may result in increased levels of radon seen in existing surrounding homes.
No exposure to elevated radon levels is a positive for the body yet lung cancer is a result of long term exposure to radon’s alpha particles. If you have a radon system in place in your home, it will keep the radon levels low if the fan is functioning properly. If there is no system in place in your home and your home testing radon results have increased based on construction, you have a decision to make to either install a system or wait to test again until the construction has been completed.
To wait could be a dangerous situation and the project could last several years due to multiple stages of construction. In that case, it’s best to install a system early on. Speak to the builder if available and determine the scope of the project. I am firm believer of installing radon mitigation systems in all homes with elevated radon levels. Why take a chance when it is small money for the repair to the home for the peace of mind of health.
Test Your Home…Protect Your Family!
Radon Testing and Closed House Conditions…What Does That Mean?
Radon gas builds up in homes because it is trapped when windows and doors are closed. Radon gas enters a building through foundation fissures, cracks and openings due to pressure differentials. The pressure inside a home is typically lower than the pressure in the soil that is exerted against a home’s foundation. This pressure differential can suck more radon into the house through these cracks and fissures.
When performing short term radon testing lasting 2-7 days, it is imperative to maintain closed house conditions throughout the entire testing period for a valid test. This includes real estate transactions! Closed house conditions means all doors and windows to the exterior including attached garage doors, to be closed for a minimum of 12 hours prior to deployment and for the entire period of active testing. Normal entry and exit is perfectly fine in and out of doors with rapid closure once passing through yet windows must stay closed during the entire period of deployment. Opening a small bathroom window while showering, for example, changes the internal pressure and can cause more radon to be pulled into the home.
Testing during the summer? Rest assured air conditioning can be used during the testing period. Make sure the temperature is consistent throughout the testing period. Testing in Winter? Keep the heat on as you normally would and once again, make sure the temperature is consistent throughout the testing period.
If closed house conditions sounds like it’s too much to endure if you are living in the property, consider arranging your radon testing while away on a long weekend or plan to visit a friend. The results will be well worth the hassle to know if your home is safe and if levels are elevated, a relatively quick and easy fix. Remember to re-test post mitigation!
Test Your Home…Protect Your Family!
Cigarette Smoking and Radon…A Double Whammy
You have smoked for many years or you know someone who has and just can’t seem to quit. I get it! Smoking cessation is one of the most difficult tasks a cigarette addicted human will ever go through. It challenges the heart (literally) and the soul!
Add long term exposure to elevated levels of radioactive radon gas into the mix and the results on the lungs can be disastrous. Long term exposure to elevated levels of radon has been proven to cause lung cancer and recent studies have shown radon can affect other organs in the body as well. Cigarette smoking has been proven to cause lung cancer so together, smoking and radon can magnify the results.
The EPA’s Citizen’s Guide to Radon notes lung cancer in people who smoke and have been exposed to elevated radon levels over a long term basis is significantly higher than those who have not smoked. Please see the charts below:
Both scenarios are easily corrected! One has a choice to smoke and it is never too late to stop for improved health benefits. A home with elevated radon levels can be fixed by installing a radon mitigation system by a professional and is one of the least expensive and most beneficial home repairs that can be performed.
Test Your Home…Protect Your Family…Stop Smoking for yourself and for those who love you.
Do You Live in a Basement Condo and Have Elevated Radon Levels?
You live in a basement condo and you have discovered your radon levels are elevated. The owners on the upper levels of the building don’t care and won’t contribute any funds to correct what they feel is YOUR problem.
Contact your management firm and share the situation. Identify what you need to obtain for approval from the association to have a radon mitigation system installed in the building for your safety and those on the levels affected whether funds are contributed or not.
Speak to other unit owners on your ground floor level and on the first floor to gather enough residents to voice their concern to install a radon mitigation system. Give all involved the tools and resources for education needed to make an intelligent decision. Call in a professional to assist!
Your management firm may choose to use reserves to take this next step if approved by a majority vote. If the management firm does not get the vote to move forward using reserves, consider gathering the funds from those affected to install the system. Always make sure you have approval from the association board and management firm before acting.
Most will turn the other cheek! Stay firm! Your health depends on it!
Protect Your Family…Test Your Home!
Rentals and Radon
Radioactive radon gas is just as dangerous a situation for tenants who rent from a landlord as it is for individual homeowners. Landlords who offer residential housing for a monthly fee have the responsibility to ensure their tenants are living in a safe environment.
Situations where a tenant needs to be concerned about the dangers of radioactive radon gas would be in basement, ground level or first floor apartments be it a brick apartment building, multi-family home or the like. In addition, many rent single family homes.
If you are a tenant and are concerned about radon in your living space, the question of how to proceed can be confusing since you don’t own the property. Speak to your landlord and ask if they have ever tested the property for radon. The landlord or management company will have the information and you have a right to have it as well. Some states have NO RULES for radon and others are very proactive making sure every property is tested prior to tenant occupation of the space. Find out if your states has any guidelines to further support your request for testing.
If the landlord feels radon is not an issue, what is your recourse? Many are not aware of the dangers of radon. That being said, share the information so your landlord can be educated as well as offer them resources such as the EPA site for increased knowledge. If your landlord will not test the property, call in a professional to test or order test kits from an approved EPA vendor. If levels are elevated and your health is at risk, share this with your landlord and ask for action.
As a tenant, you have rights! You can request a radon mitigation system be installed followed by re-testing to assure the levels are reduced adequately. Be proactive…this is your health! Long term exposure to elevated levels of radon gas have been proven to cause lung cancer. This threat is completely preventable with proper measures taken.
Cellular Results from Radon Exposure
Lung cells can have 3 cellular results when they are “hit” by radon”s daughter cells also know as alpha particles.
Lung cells are either damaged but repaired by the body, killed or damaged and not repaired.
Damaged and not repaired lung cells may result in miscoded DNA which can cause cellular mutation. This mutation may result in lung cancer.
Test Your Home…Protect Your Family!
Understanding Your Radon Results
You have recently had your home tested for radioactive radon gas or possibly you are in the process of purchasing a home and have asked to have the home tested for radon. NOW WHAT!
If you have had a short term passive test performed (2-90 days) for quick results, meaning no electronics have been used, a small canister, vial or packet filled with a medium containing charcoal is likely to be used. This medium absorbs and stores the radioactive radon daughter cells, called alpha particles. These particles are then extracted and read in a lab. There are other methods such as the Electret Ion Detectors and Alpha Track Detectors for short term testing up to 90 days yet the charcoal canisters are the most common for real estate transactions for a 2-7 day test. These tests will give you an overall average of radon collected.
Another method for short term testing is an electronic test, also know as an active test to measure radon levels. An electronic test uses a Continuous Radon Monitor which measures the alpha particles on a continuous basis giving an hour by hour reading. Continuous Radon Monitors may be preferable for a real estate transaction because they are tamper proof and some machines have a motion detector to identify if the machine has been moved. Make sure if you are having an electronic test performed that you use a professional who has been certified by the AARST-NRPP National Radon Proficiency Program.
When doing an electronic test, you will see your radon levels on an hourly basis which may fluctuate. This is normal! Radon is a concern when long term exposure is experienced. Spikes in the levels are common particularly during the night. Levels are known to fluctuate based on the season and can be higher during heating season or during heavy wind and rain.
That being said, if you view your radon results via the electronic method and see hourly changes, take a deep breath and know that is normal. We live on Planet Earth which is constantly changing so rely on the overall average for mitigation versus your hourly read for peace of mind. If your levels are between 2.0pCi/L and 4.0pCi/L, you may want to have a radon mitigation system installed to reduce levels and re-test. EPA action level is 4.0pCi/L yet the EPA has concern between 2.0pCi/L and 4.0pCi/L. The WHO, World Health Organization, recommends fixing your home at 2.7pCi/L.
Test Your Home…Protect Your Family!
Holiday Celebrations and Radioactive Radon Gas
This weekend commemorates both Passover and Easter which means family and friends may be visiting your home or possibly you will be spending the holidays visiting others. That means many people coming and going from the house which is not the best scenario for radon testing.
Radon testing requires “closed house conditions” for a valid test to be performed. Closed house conditions means doors and windows to a home, including garage doors MUST be closed to the exterior at all times however normal entry and exit from a home with immediate closure of doors after passing is perfectly fine. Windows MUST remain closed at all times during testing.
A short term test requires 48 hours of data collection minimum with closed house conditions established as well as 12 hours of closed house conditions prior to deployment. Even opening a window can create a vacuum cleaner effect drawing more radon into the home due to interior pressure changes.
Performing a radon test when your home is bustling with guests for the holidays is probably not the best time to perform a radon test. Select a time when activity in the house is at a minimum so you can fully enjoy your guests when they visit for the holidays without rushing to close the door behind them.
Happy Passover! Happy Easter! Happy Spring! Thanks for reading and stay safe!