January is National Radon Action Month

Radon: A Safety Hazard You Have Rarely Heard Of

The safety reason is that January has been designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as National Radon Action Month. Here’s some important information about radon and health to pass along.

Radon is a radioactive gas.  It comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Your home traps radon inside, where it can build up. Any home may have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements.

Radon is very common for our area (Zone 1 and 2 on the EPA Radon Zone map), if you live in the Plateau area you should be aware of the threat that radon gas poses. Radon gas is a natural occurring geological event and can be radioactive and in tightly insulated houses it can accumulate to concentrations that pose a health threat. If you inhale the gas into your lungs, its decay can increase your chance of getting lung cancer. A study reported in the summer of 2010 by the National Safety Council and EPA estimated that between 15,000 and 22,000 deaths a year could be attributed to radon.

The Map was developed using five factors to determine radon potential: 1) indoor radon measurements; 2) geology; 3) aerial radioactivity; 4) soil permeability; and 5) foundation type. Radon potential assessment is based on geologic provinces. Radon Index Matrix is the quantitative assessment of radon potential. Confidence Index Matrix shows the quantity and quality of the data used to assess radon potential. Geologic Provinces were adapted to county boundaries for the Map of Radon Zones.

Zone 1 counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level greater than 4 pCi/L (pico curies per liter) (red zones) Highest Potential
Zone 2 counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level between 2 and 4 pCi/L (orange zones) Moderate Potential
Zone 3 counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level less than 2 pCi/L (yellow zones) Low Potential

 

Radon atoms are fairly short-lived. Over the course of several days a radon atom becomes a lead atom. While it is a radon atom, however, it is a gas. Because radon is a gas, it can seep from the ground into the air in a house. The primary way that radon enters a house is through the foundation (crawl space, basement) by a variety of paths:

  • cracks in basement floors
  • drains
  • sump pumps
  • exposed soil
  • construction joints (mortar, floor-wall)
  • loose fitting pipes

Radon may also enter the air of a house from well water, but this is a minor source compared to that coming in through the foundation. .

What are the hazards? Radon is a naturally geographic occurring gas. You can’t see, smell, or taste it. Outdoors it’s harmlessly dispersed in the air, but when trapped inside a building, it becomes a health problem. If high levels of radon are trapped in your home, for example, it could make your whole family sick.

The main hazard of radon is lung cancer. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, radon is responsible for an alarming number of new cases of lung cancer every year. That danger increases if you have no knowledge of this hazard. Some people have never even heard of radon, much less that it could be present in their homes, and affect the health and that of their families.

What can you do about radon? EPA NSC and the Surgeon General urge all Americans to protect their health by testing their homes for radon. Testing for high levels is simple and inexpensive. Radon test kits that meet EPA requirements are available at local hardware stores and home improvement stores, many kits for less than $25. If the test indicates dangerous levels of radon in a home, prompt action should be taken to correct the problem. This generally requires the services of an experienced professional contractor.

Because radon levels can vary from day to day and from season to season, testing can be done on the short-term (two to 90 days) or long-term (greater than three months). Short-term tests are best done if the results are needed quickly and should be followed by another short-term test. Long-term tests will yield better information on a home’s average year-round radon levels. Radon test devices are placed in the lowest occupied level of the home.

Changes in air pressure pull radon in

Houses act like large chimneys – as the air in the house gets warmer, it rises to leak out the attic openings and around the upper windows. This change in air pressure creates a small suction at the lower level of the house, pulling radon out of the soil and into the home. Even sealing basement cracks with caulk can’t stop it from entering – just a few tiny gaps or pinholes in the caulking to can let radon in.

Radon Test Devices
Radon tests detect either radon gas directly or the daughter products of radon’s radioactive decay. There are two categories of radon test devices, passive and active. Passive devices require no electrical power and generally trap radon or its daughter products for later analysis by a laboratory. Passive devices include charcoal canisters, charcoal liquid scintillation detectors, alpha track detectors and electrets ion detectors.

  • Charcoal canister and charcoal liquid scintillation devices absorb radon or its products on to the charcoal. In the laboratory, the radioactive particles emitted from the charcoal are counted directly by a sodium iodide counter or converted to light in a liquid scintillation medium and counted in a scintillation detector.
  • The alpha track detectors have a plastic film that gets etched by the alpha particles that strike it. In the laboratory, the plastic is chemically treated to make the tracks visible, and then the tracks are counted.
  • Electrets ion detectors have a Teflon disc, which is statically charged. When an ion generated from radon decay strikes the Teflon disc, the electrical charge is reduced. In the laboratory, the charge reduction is measured and the radon level is calculated.

 

Typically, all of the passive devices, except electrets ion detectors, are available in hardware stores or by mail; electrets ion detectors are usually only available through laboratories. The passive devices are generally less expensive than active devices and may require little or no special training for their use. Of the passive devices, the charcoal canisters and charcoal liquid scintillation detectors are typically used for short-term tests.

In contrast to passive devices, active devices need electrical power and include continuous monitoring devices (continuous radon monitors, continuous working level monitors). Active devices detect and record radon or its daughter products continuously. They are generally more expensive and require professionally trained testers for their operation.

 

Radon levels in the average home are about 1.25 picocuries/liter of air (pCi/L). If a radon test discloses levels of 4 pCi/L or greater, then some action should be taken to reduce the radon level. Radon can be reduced by preventing its entry into the home or by removing it once it has entered the home. The general solution involves active ventilation either in the basement or below the slab of the home.

Radon Removal

A variety of methods are used to reduce indoor radon levels, from sealing cracks in floors and walls to changing the flow of air into the home. Simple systems use pipes and fans to remove radon gas from beneath the concrete floor and foundation before it can enter the home. Radon is then vented out above the roof, where it safely disperses.

Other methods may also work in your home. The right radon removal system depends on the design of your home and other factors. Lowering high radon levels requires technical knowledge and special skills. You should use a professional who is trained to fix radon problems. The cost of making repairs to reduce radon depends on how your home was built and the extent of the radon problem, but most homes can be fixed for a reasonable cost.

How can you and your workers get more information about radon? EPA’s website at www.epa.gov . You can also call the agency’s Washington, D.C. phone number 202-343-9370, or contact an EPA regional office (see the blue pages of your phone book).

EPA supports the following hotlines to best serve consumers with radon-related questions and concerns.

  • 1-800-SOSRADON (1-800-767-7236)* Purchase radon test kits by phone.
  • 1-800-55RADON (557-2366)* Get live help for your radon questions.
  • 1-800-644-6999* Radon Fit-It Hotline. For general information on fixing or reducing the radon level in your home.
  • 1-800-426-4791 Safe Drinking Water Hotline. For general information on drinking water, radon in water, testing and treatment, and standards for radon drinking water. Operated under a contract with EPA
  • 1-866 528 3187 National Hispanic Indoor Air Quality Hotline

Why It Matters…

–Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers in America and the second leading cause of lung cancer overall (smokers and nonsmokers). -According to the U.S. Surgeon General, radon claims the lives of between 15,000 and 22,000 Americans each year.

–A simple, inexpensive test can warn of dangerous levels of radon in the home.

–Most of you probably aren’t even aware of the risk, or what to do about it.

Information provided by and with approval of the EPA, National Safety Council, Office of the Surgeon General and BLR Safety Ezine

Today’s blog post comes to us courtesy of Ken Oswald
Safety and Security Manager for Plateau
koswald@plateautel.com