Radon | A Radioactive Gas | In my home and it can KILL ME?!?

11 02 2011

WHAT!?!  Yeah…that’s right.  I used to believe it was just a hoax that inspectors and contractors used to drum up more business by scaring people.  Really….some people sit in Radon mines to cure their arthritic ailments.  You’re soon going to think they are insane.  Let’s start with a more indepth, What is it?

Radon is a gaseous radioactive element having the symbol Rn, the atomic number 86, an atomic weight of 222, a melting point of -71ºC, a boiling point of -62ºC, and (depending on the source, there are between 20 and 25 isotopes of radon – 20 cited in the chemical summary, 25 listed in the table of isotopes); it is an extremely toxic, colorless gas; it can be condensed to a transparent liquid and to an opaque, glowing solid; it is derived from the radioactive decay of radium and is used in cancer treatment, as a tracer in leak detection, and in radiography. (From the word radium, the substance from which it is derived.)

Sources: Condensed Chemical Dictionary, and Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 69th ed., CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, 1988.

Ok, fan-freaking-tastic….but where does it come from?

Radon-222 is the decay product of radium-226. Radon-222 and its parent, radium-226, are part of the long decay chain for uranium-238. Since uranium is essentially ubiquitous (being or seeming to be everywhere at the same time) in the earth’s crust, radium-226 and radon-222 are present in almost all rock and all soil and water.

The amount of radon in the soil depends on soil chemistry, which varies from one house to the next. Radon levels in the soil range from a few hundred to several thousands of pCi/L (picocuries per liter) in air. The amount of radon that escapes from the soil to enter the house depends on the weather, soil porosity, soil moisture, and the suction within the house.

Whew…that was pretty technical.  For me, the engineering geek, I kinda like that stuff, but for you (most likely non science-nerd), your probably snoring by now.  So, really – what you REALLY want to know is how it will affect you, right?

Exposure to radon in the home is responsible for an estimated 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year. In fact, the Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States

I can’t speak for other locations around the country, but most homes in Billings have a little Radon in them.  Most tests I see come in between 2 pCi/L & 8-10 pCi/L.  These are tests done over a two day period with a machine that a home inspector plugs into the wall in the lowest level of the home, which is to be left alone until the test is done.  The rule is you want to try and not open windows/doors during the test (per the home inspector) to affect the air around you.  Radon levels are normally the highest when a home has been closed up/vacant/spring or fall when the furnace/air conditioning isn’t running much.  Per the inspectors – generally a home with a basement is more likely to have a higher radon level (not as much in & out to the outside as the main level & the foundation is where the radon has a chance to enter, I assume)

The U.S. Congress has set a long-term goal that indoor radon levels be no more than outdoor levels; about 0.4 pCi/L of radon is normally found in the outside air. EPA recommends fixing your home if the results one long-term test or the average of two short-term tests show radon levels of 4 pCi/L or higher. With today’s technology, radon levels in most homes can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or below. You may also want to consider fixing if the level is between 2 and 4 pCi/L.

A short-term test remains in your home for two days to 90 days, whereas a long-term test remains in your home for more than 90 days. All radon tests should be taken for a minimum of 48 hours. A short-term test will yield faster results, but a long-term test will give a better understanding of your home’s year-round average radon level.

The EPA recommends two categories of radon testing. One category is for concerned homeowners or occupants whose home is not for sale; refer to EPA’s “A Citizen’s Guide to Radon” for testing guidance. The second category is for real estate transactions; refer to EPA’s “Home Buyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon,” which provides guidance and answers to some common questions.

What can I do?

If you want to lower the amount of radon in your home, there are contractors that specialize in Radon removal – aka Radon Mitigation.  They generally come and install a 4″ white PVC pipe with an inline fan in it that runs through the slab in your basement to the outside of the home that runs constantly.  There is also a monitoring system that plugs into the wall and shows the current radon level.  The Pipe/Fan helps to pull the Radon from the Earth below your home and exit it to the outside air where the concentrations are much lower, therefore not giving the gas as high of opportunity to enter your home.  In the Billings area it generally ranges between $1,000-$1,500 for a Radon Mitigation System.  If you are out looking at homes and you find one with the mitigation system, that’s awesome!  You won’t even have to spend the money to test it…the results are right there in front of you & it’s one less concern to negotiate with the seller.  Yay.




2 responses

29 04 2011
WA State To Stop Daily Monitoring: 125 pCi/L is fine by us. « Alternative Health Answers

[…] Radon | A Radioactive Gas | In my home and it can KILL ME?!? (katehamlin.wordpress.com) […]

5 06 2012
radon atlanta

Thanks for the fantastic information, Everyone should have their home tested for radon gas, it is a killer, and there is no way to know if you have it at high levels in your house unless you test, I was at a 6 when i had my system put in!

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