Radon: What is it? When should I be concerned? If present, what do I need to do?
Written by Brian Saylor of Saylor’s Home Inspection
Radon is a natural occurring gas formed from the decomposition of uranium. This gas escapes the ground through cracks, fissures, or underground aquifers and is dispersed into the air. The gas is normally present in the air at very low levels, and at such levels, poses very little health concern. It can, however, also be a dense gas that becomes trapped in homes, causing higher levels that lead to health issues.
Much has been said lately in the news about the concerns of radon in the water, and while some cancers have been linked to the ingestion of it, this tends to be quite rare and only occurs when the levels are particularly high. The greatest concern is through the inhalation of the gas; thus, radon is now considered the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and its detection to mitigation are important for the health of those living in the home.
This gas can come directly through the soil or be released from the water by normal use within the home. Because of varying geography, certain areas of North Carolina specifically are at a higher risk for elevated levels of radon. Around Central North Carolina, the counties of concern are Vance, Warren, Franklin, and Wake. But, it’s important to remember each property is unique. Just because your neighbor’s radon level is low is not an indication that you’re home or lot will have low levels as well.
Remember, the gas not only can come up through the cracks and fissures in the ground at random times, but it often goes completely undetected. The only way to determine your risk is to test for the levels of your home. Much was said in the news about testing your water and while you may need to do so at some point, it is not always where you should start. Testing the water first can be expensive and gives you little to no information about the real threat of your home’s air quality. An airborne test takes about 48 hours and is typically about half the price of testing water. If the results come back high, then a water test may be warranted to determine the source of the radon in your home. If the water levels were high enough to cause increased health concern about the ingestion of radon, it would most likely also be present in the air, but the reverse is not always true.
Let’s say you just received the bad news that the gas level in your home is above the safe level established by the EPA, and you’re wondering what to do. First, this is not necessarily bad news, you have identified a health concern before it has caused a problem and there are ways to fix it to reduce or eliminate your exposure. There are different methods to remove this gas from your home depending on the type of foundation your house is built upon, but the general principles are the same. A blower is attached to a pipe that sucks the air from the ground under your house and expels it into the atmosphere above your house. From the homeowner’s prospective after installation, maintenance and monitoring of the system are all that are required. Though radon is a true concern, it is often randomly occurring and without testing, will go unknown until it is too late. Think of it as a preventative screening test for your home that can benefit you and your family’s health.
For more information, the EPA has several brochures about radon you can visit below:
The Consumer’s Guide To Radon Reduction
A Citizen’s Guide to Radon
Basic Radon Facts
Home Buyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon
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