Radon Scare

by Osman Parvez

Worried About Radon? Get the Facts.

When I was a little kid, there used to be public service ads on TV about Radon. In the middle of my Saturday morning cartoon binge, up would pop an ad showing children playing in the basement of their home. Suddenly the image would freeze and flip to X-RAY view. There was an alien sounding buzzer noise, and then the image would return to normal. The children would start playing again.

The dark and dramatic voice over said something to the effect of, "Did you know that being exposed to Radon gas is like smoking a hundred cigarettes a day? It's colorless, odorless, and little Johnny and Debbie, playing in the basement will never know that THIS is the most dangerous thing they ever did... until it's too late. Please, get the facts on Radon."

The ad scared the heck out of me. Johnny and Debbie were playing in the basement. I was playing in the basement. Was THIS the most dangerous thing I would ever do? Of course, at this particular age Scooby Doo scared the heck out of me too, but you get the point.

Helping clients through the home inspection process today, I find myself dealing with Radon issues on a regular basis and apparently I wasn't the only one freaked out by these ads. The old scare tactics to help people become aware of Radon seems to have created a lingering effect. People frequently panic when Radon test results come back. The fact is that Radon issues are common because Colorado soils are very high in radium, and some neighborhoods in particular are heavily effected. The good news is that there are very effective, reasonable priced Radon mitigation systems available.

If you're worried about Radon, get a test. We recommend it as part of any home inspection. Testing is quite easy to do. You can order a home test kit and do the testing yourself or you can hire a professional to do the test for you. If you happen to live in my neighborhood in Martin Acres, our neighborhood association even has a free test kit available to you. Contact me for more details. Although no level of Radon is 100% safe, the maximum acceptable level, according to the EPA, is 4 picoliters per liter (4 pCi/L).

For more facts about Radon, please visit this site from the EPA. It's a home buyers and sellers guide to Radon. It covers why you should test for Radon, what you should do if Radon gas is found above acceptable levels if you're the seller (or the buyer), and where to get more information.

Here's the myths and facts section (currently missing from the EPA site).

Radon Myths and Facts
MYTH #1: Scientists are not sure that radon really is a problem.
FACT: Although some scientists dispute the precise number of deaths due to radon, all the major health organizations (like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Lung Association and the American Medical Association) agree with estimates that radon causes thousands of preventable lung cancer deaths every year. This is especially true among smokers, since the risk to smokers is much greater than to non-smokers.
MYTH #2: Radon testing devices are not reliable and are difficult to find.
FACT: Reliable radon tests are available from qualified radon testers and companies. Active radon devices can continuously gather and periodically record radon levels to reveal any unusual swings in the radon level during the test.
MYTH #3: Radon testing is difficult and time-consuming.
FACT: Radon testing is easy. You can test your home yourself or hire a qualified radon test company. Either approach takes only a small amount of time and effort.
MYTH #4: Homes with radon problems cannot be fixed.
FACT: There are solutions to radon problems in homes. Thousands of home owners have already lowered elevated radon levels in their homes. Radon levels can be readily lowered for approximately $800 to $2,500. Call your state radon office for a list of qualified mitigation contractors.
MYTH #5: Radon affects only certain types of homes.
FACT: Radon can be a problem in all types of homes, including old homes, new homes, drafty homes, insulated homes, homes with basements and homes without basements. Local geology, construction materials, and how the home was built are among the factors that can affect radon levels in homes.
MYTH #6: Radon is only a problem in certain parts of the country.
FACT: High radon levels have been found in every state. Radon problems do vary from area to area, but the only way to know the home's radon level is to test.
MYTH #7: A neighbor's test result is a good indication of whether your home has a radon problem.
FACT: It is not. Radon levels vary from home to home. The only way to know if your home has a radon problem is to test it.
MYTH #8: Everyone should test their water for radon.
FACT: While radon gets into some homes through the water, it is important to first test the air in the home for radon. If your water comes from a public water system that uses ground water, call your water supplier. If high radon levels are found and the home has a private well, you should test your water.
MYTH #9: It is difficult to sell a home where radon problems have been discovered.
FACT: Where radon problems have been fixed, home sales have not been blocked. The added protection could be a good selling point.
MYTH #10: I have lived in my home for so long, it does not make sense to take action now.
FACT: You will reduce your risk of lung cancer when you reduce radon levels, even if you have lived with an elevated radon level for a long time.
MYTH #11: Short-term tests cannot be used for making a decision about whether to reduce the home's high radon levels.
FACT: Short-term tests can be used to decide whether to reduce the home's high radon levels. However, the closer the short-term testing result is to 4 pCi/L, the less certainty there is about whether the home's year-round average is above or below that level. Keep in mind that radon levels below 4 pCi/L still pose some risk and that radon levels can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or below in most homes.
Source: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/radon/pubs/myths.html
Created: October 30, 1996, Last Modified: October 18, 2000

Image: Beige Albert, and Code Poet

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