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What is radon and are you being exposed?

Last Modified: 1/07/2020


January is National Radon Action Month and, in order to educate the community, Anna Belote, director, Safety, Parkview Health, shared the following information about the potentially hazardous material, provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

What is radon?

Radon is a gas produced during the decomposition or decay of radioactive materials. It is colorless and odorless and is found both in and out of doors. Researchers have linked long-term exposure to radon with an increased susceptibility to certain cancers in humans. In fact, it is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.

While small amounts of radon are found in outdoor air or in the water occupying lakes and rivers, people are most likely to encounter it indoors. The chances of being exposed to radon vary greatly regionally. It primarily depends upon the prevalence of certain radioactive elements, particularly uranium, in the soil and rock beneath structures that people inhabit. Almost every state in the U.S. has some area where increased radon levels prevail.

Radon gas can rise from its place below the surface and enter air and water sources. It can also break down into tinier radioactive particles, called radon progeny, which is then breathed into the body and thus enters the lungs. As a result of the continued decay of these radioactive materials, lungs may incur serious damage and even develop cancer. Researchers insist that radon-induced lung cancer is more likely when coupled with cigarette smoke; nonetheless, many non-smokers perish every year due to the same phenomenon.

How to test for radon

Conduct the test in the lowest livable area of your house that is regularly used 8-10 hours per week.

Short-term radon tests – Short-term tests are useful to see if further testing is warranted. Most are activated charcoal-based or electret ion that measure radon levels for 2-7 days. You mail the tests to a lab for the results. Short-term tests are available at home centers, hardware stores and online retailers.

Long-term radon tests – Long-term tests measure levels for 90 days to one year. Most are based on alpha particle tracking. This is a more accurate indicator of average annual levels in your home, which can vary significantly from day to day and month to month based on factors such as a drop in air pressure, gusty winds, variable soil moisture and snow cover, which traps radon gases. Long-term radon tests are available through state radon agencies and online retailers.

How to protect yourself

The most effective system is a vent pipe placed in the sump pit (if you have a sump pump) or a hole made under your concrete floor slab. A special in-line radon fan is placed in the attic or outside the house to draw air through the vent and radon from under the basement floor. The easiest method is to run the vent out the side of the house and up to the eaves. You can also run the vent up through the house and out the roof, which is a lot more work and cost, but it looks better. Your state radon office will have a list of qualified contractors who can install a radon mitigation system.


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