Radon is a invisible, odorless and tasteless radioactive gas prevalent in the North American Prairies, that occurs naturally when the uranium in soil and rock breaks down. When radon is released from the ground into the outdoor air, it is diluted and is not a concern. However, in enclosed spaces, like homes, it can sometimes accumulate with indoor air to high levels, which can be a risk to the health of you and your family.
How can Radon get into my Home?
The air pressure inside your home is usually lower than the air pressure in the soil surrounding the foundation and basement floor slab. Because of this difference in air pressure, your house acts like a giant vacuum, allowing radon gas to move up through the soil through any opening in the foundation or basement floor. Any home can have a radon problem regardless of how it was constructed, new or old, well sealed or drafty, with or without basements. Radon can enter a home any place it finds an opening where the house contacts the soil, cracks in foundation walls and in floor slabs, construction joints, gaps around service pipes, support posts, window casements, floor drains, sumps or cavities inside walls.
Radon gas can be present in well water and be released into the air in your household when water is used for showering and other uses. Radon entering the home through water in most cases is a small risk compared to radon entering your home through the soil. Some amount of radon is found in almost every home, but concentration levels will vary from one house to another, even if they are similar and next door to each other.
What are the Health Effects of Radon
Radon is classified as a class-one carcinogen a proven cancer-causing, radioactive gas agent. As Radon gas breaks down or decays it forms radioactive elements that can be inhaled into the lungs attaching themselves to lung tissue. Radon has a half-life of 3.8 days and decaying continues In the lungs, creating radioactive particles that release small bursts of energy. This energy is absorbed by nearby lung tissue causing permanent damage to DNA tissue in lung cells, and when damaged cells reproduce they have the potential to result in cancer. Exposure to high levels of radon in indoor air results in an increased risk of developing lung cancer.
It is expected that only a small percentage of homes will have radon levels above the guideline but the only way to be sure of the radon level in your home is to test your air quality with a radon gas detector. Concentrations differ greatly, but are usually higher in areas where there is a higher amount of uranium in underlying rock and soil.
What is an acceptable level of radon gas?
A safe level of radon gas is no radon gas. The average person receives a higher dose of radiation from radon in their home than from all other combined radiation exposure source, natural or man-made.
In the United States, Congress has set a long-term goal that indoor radon levels be no more than outdoor levels - or about 0.4 pCi/l (picocurries of radon per liter of air). The average indoor radon level in the United States is estimated to be about 1.3 pCi/l. The EPA advises that no levels are safe. It is estimated that a reduction of radon levels to below 2 pCi/L nationwide would likely reduce the yearly lung cancer deaths attributed to radon by 50%.
The current Canadian guideline for radon in indoor air for dwellings is 200 Becquerels per cubic meter (200 Bq/m3). This was recently reduced from 800 Bq/m3 based on new information about potential health risks. A Becquerel means one radioactive disintegration per second. The level in a dwelling should not be above the new guideline.
Globally, 25% of patients with lung cancer are nonsmokers, and most cases of the disease in developed countries are caused directly by radon inhalation in homes and workplaces.
How do I Test my Home for Radon?
With no smell, no color and no taste the only way to know how much radon is in your home is to test for it. Testing for radon is simple to do and should be done in every home. 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. The recommended radon test time is 90 days or longer.
There are two options for testing a house for radon, to purchase a do-it-yourself radon test kit or to hire a radon measurement professional. If you choose to purchase a radon test kit, you must closely follow the instructions on how to set up the test. The radon test kits include instructions on how to set up the test and to send it back to a lab for analysis once the testing period is over. The cost of testing ranges from $40 to $75.
You can do a quick test with a radon Gas Detector monitor, a state-of-the-art measuring instrument that combines ease of use and performance. The Corentium monitor allows you to take a reading of the radon levels and its LCD screen displays the average daily, weekly and long term concentrations. Powered by 3 standard AAA batteries, the monitor makes it easy to take measurements from one room to another in order to get an overview of the concentrations of radon in a home, workplace, school, a daycare centre or any other location. The Corentium monitor is also an essential tool to use when performing property inspections or when checking the operation of a radon mitigation system.
If you choose to hire a service provider to perform the radon test in your house, it is recommended that you ensure they are certified and will conduct a long term test for a minimum of 3 months. Long term testing will give you a reading that is more likely to reflect your home's year-round average radon level. Your family's risk of developing lung cancer from radon depends on the average annual level of radon in your home.
Where in my Home should I Perform the Test?
To provide a realistic estimate of the radon exposure of your family, all measurements should be made in the lowest lived-in level of the home. That means the lowest level that you currently live in and is used or occupied for more than four hours per day. For some, this may be a basement with a rec room, for others it will be the ground floor. If you only use your basement once a week to do laundry, for example, there is no need to test on that level - your exposure time will not be long enough to create health effects.
New homes can be built with radon resistant features that minimize radon entry and allow for easier radon reduction, if high levels should be determined to exist. These features cost much less to install during the construction process, than if added to an existing home later. Some municipalities are considering adopting radon resistant construction features as a part of their building codes.
How to reduce the amount of radon in our home
Radon is one of the easiest of all environmental concerns to repair. Sometimes, all it takes is sealing up cracks and openings in basement floors, foundation walls, openings around pipes, etc. If a crawl space is present, often times placing a vapor barrier (plastic sheeting) over the bare soil will cure the problem. In other cases, it may be necessary to install a radon mitigation fan suction system that draws air from under the basement floor and exhausts it to the outside.
If you have a sump pit a radon sump dome is designed to fit over an 18 inch square or 24 inch diameter sump pit to prevent radon gas from entering the home through the sump pit, easy to install & can hold over 1,000 lb, required for new home installation legislation. Whatever the methods used, a high radon level can almost always be reduced easily!
The cost for radon reduction depends on the size and design of a home and the work that is needed. These costs typically range from $500 to $3000, a small cost when compared to the value of the house. Like regular maintenance, fixing the problem may in fact protect the value of your home.
More and more, home buyers and renters are asking about radon levels before they buy or rent a home. Because real estate sales happen quickly, there is often little time to deal with radon and other issues, to both the buyer's and seller's full satisfaction. The best thing to do is to test for radon NOW and save the results in case the buyer is interested in them. Fix a problem if it exists so it won't complicate your home sale later on!