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Radon – FAQ


Editor’s note: This is the best explanation of radon and what to do about it that we have seen, essential reading for any home owner.

Q. What is radon?

A. Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the radioactive decay of radium, which is a common, naturally occurring mineral in the earth’s crust. Radon goes through a fairly rapid radioactive decay period with a half-life of 3.82 days, and in about 28 days, all of it has decayed away leaving its daughter products, which ultimately decay away to lead 206 — the familiar soft metal with a number of uses. The major risk of radon radiation is in the form of alpha radiation, which is also a form of ionizing radiation.

Alpha radiation from radon is somewhat like two bullets that are released the instant that the radon atom disintegrates into its short-lived daughter products. These “bullets” are very powerful in a molecular world, and they contain a comparatively great deal of energy. When they strike a living cell, they can be disruptive both by creating chemical changes as well as genetic changes, which may be disruptive to the cell’s growth. Usually, radon reaches an equilibrium concentration within a building where the amount of radon leaking into the building is the same as the rate that radon decays. It will remain at that level for extended periods unless ventilation or leakage rates change, or unless the entry pathway is changed in some manner.

Q. How dangerous is radon?

A. Radon exposure over time causes lung cancer, especially in smokers, and it is believed to be more dangerous to the very young. Lung cancer is fatal in 95 percent of patients as it progresses rapidly, and there is usually only about 6 months from the time of its occurring until death.

Q. Is radon visible to the human eye or can we smell it?

A. None of our five senses can detect the presence of radon. We can detect its presence only by way of tests, which look for and measure alpha or gamma radiation of a specific energy level. Self-administered radon test kits are reasonably reliable, readily available, and inexpensive. Testing protocol for the tests must be followed.

Q. Are there any symptoms for the inhabitants of a house suspected of having radon?

A. So far as we know, there are no symptoms, except that if one of the residents’ contracts lung cancer, it will be a longer period before it is apparent that the person is very seriously sick. And of course, then it is too late in almost every case.

Q. What do I need to do to get a radon inspection of my house?

A. Professional radon measurement folks are often listed in the telephone yellow pages. You also may contact your state radon office, which may provide you with a list of qualified testers.

Q. How effective are the self-administered kits for radon measurement?

A. I believe that the kits are of uniformly good quality, and they will provide you with a reliable indication of radon exposure, so long as the testing protocols are followed precisely. The greatest opportunity for error to be introduced is in the testing protocol, including the return of the device to the laboratory. Of course, the product must be listed by name within the EPA device list.

Q. If I want to get an outside vendor to do a radon inspection, what are the criteria I should use in finding a reputable vendor?

A. A firm who performs both radon testing and radon mitigation is presented with tempting opportunities for fraud every day. Some of the most ethical folks are engaged in both measurement and mitigation of radon. I encourage the use of self-administered kits, and if there is question of the results or if the results are adverse, that you call the experts. Get two or more bids and compare them.

Q. Is there any EPA or other certification for radon inspectors?

A. Currently there is a voluntary certification that is available from two voluntary agencies. Most states have mandatory certification programs. We suspect that some of the public are overly impressed by lots of credentials, kind of like the biggest lawyer ad in the yellow pages. This is an attempt to appear more qualified than others, despite not possessing the knowledge.

Q. How can I know whether a particular town has a high concentration of radon in its homes?

A. It may not be easy. I suspect that the record-keeping of the state is frustrated by some measurement and mitigation guys’ desire to keep their success quiet and private. However, it is not important if a town has lots of radon or not. Radon can always be fixed, and the fixes are usually very reliable.

Q. Does radon effect all the rooms of a house?

A. Radon is likely more often found at higher concentrations in a basement or at ground level. Our major radon concern is in bedrooms, children’s playrooms, and the rooms where invalids may be. Test those rooms for sure.

Q. At what level of radon reading in my house should I get concerned?

A. 4.0 picocuries per Liter is the official EPA “action level.” However, it is suggested that such level is VERY ROUGHLY the equivalent of smoking seven cigarettes per day. You may seek a lower exposure.

Q. If I find I have radon in my home, how do I get rid of it or is there no cure?

A. Radon cures are usually quick and reliable. If your home has levels in the thousands! It may likely be reduced to less than 4.0 without great difficulty. Sometimes a radon reduction from 8 to less than 4 may be much more difficult.

Q. Should I get radon “checkups” for my home? Does the radon level vary?

A. If you have a home in which radon work has been done, we suggest an annual self-administered test at New Year’s. If your home has had modifications to the heating or air conditioning system, or if you have had renovation work done, we recommend that you radon test upon completion of such work. And, you bet, radon levels will vary by time of day, season, air temperature, precipitation, open or closed interior doors, wind, and more. Make sure you follow the testing protocols that are provided with the at home kit, or that you maintain the conditions advised by your radon test professionals.

If you find radon, have your home tested professionally and mitigated, if necessary, to ensure that you have peace of mind as well as a good, healthy, and safe home. CAUTIONARY NOTE: We suspect that relative humidity increases that may occur in a hot, humid climate from a certain type of radon mitigation may be much more dangerous to human health than radon. We suggest maintaining an indoor relative humidity of ABOVE 50-55 percent during cooling periods, especially for persons with unusual irritability, allergies, asthma, other respiratory problems, but also including rashes, burning eyes, blurring vision, headaches, and several other seemingly unconnected ailments.

Visible mold or moldy odors are powerful clues to a potentially dangerous condition that may have originated in the unintentional or negligent creation of a mold and dust mite-favorable environment. The presence of mold, dust mites, and dust mite allergens can be confirmed by blood tests by the sufferer.

Q. How can I test for indoor humidity levels?

A. Testing for indoor relative humidity is the easiest of all. An inexpensive digital thermo-hygrometer will constantly monitor for high-humidity condition for the low cost of a replacement battery once every three years. If indoor relative humidity can be maintained below 50 percent constantly, all dust mites will dehydrate and die within 12 days. They can then safely be vacuumed up with a HEPA vacuum. They will not return unless new specimens can absorb the moisture they need out of the air.

Most molds do very poorly at 50 percent relative humidity unless dew point is reached or there are water leaks and moisture. Molds can thrive in wall cavities where they cannot be seen. If you see mold, it is likely that it is ten times greater in your home than what’s visible. The most important means to control mold and eliminate dust mites is to always maintain relative humidity to 50 percent or less, to avoid condensation problems, and to immediately repair and dry water leaks and all moist materials. Immediately means within 24 hours. Usually this means your first action should be seeking a professionals help. Mold cleanup can be very expensive; however, moisture and water extraction is relatively inexpensive.

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