IS RADON REAL?
ALTHOUGH ENVIRONMENTAL TESTING IS EXCLUDED FROM THE ASHI Standard of Practice, many home inspectors like Mirowski Inspections offer radon testing as an ancillary offering to provide better service to clients.
What Is Radon?
Radon is a colorless, odorless, naturally occurring gas that comes from the decay of uranium in the ground. It is a known carcinogen and is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, second only to smoking. About 1 in 15 houses in the United States has elevated levels of radon (Rn).
The Number Debate
If a house is tested for radon and the average is 4 picocuries/Liter (pCi/L) or greater, the EPA recommends a radon mitigation system be installed to reduce the radon level to below 4. The World Health Organization (WHO) now recommends an action level of 2.7pCi/L. There is some debate amongst radon experts as to what should be the action level. A high radon test result probably won’t kill the deal, but long-term exposure to radon might kill a person.
Is Radon Real?
According to the United States, Surgeon General: “Indoor radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the country. I
It’s important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques.”
- The EPA Home Buyers’ and Sellers’ Guide to Radon suggests that all houses be tested for radon.
Dr. Wallace Akerley, Senior Director of Community Oncology Research (Lung Cancer) at the Huntsman Cancer Institute conveyed at a radon conference in 2013 that various cancers have different colored ribbons for awareness. Lung cancer’s ribbon is invisible and radon is the invisible cloud behind the invisible ribbon. Lung cancer occurs in both smokers and non-smokers alike and is the number one cause of cancer mortality; more than breast, prostate, pancreas, and colon combined.
- Lung cancer lacks advocacy because of the guilt, judgment, and stigma of smoking. Following is the approximate distribution of lung cancer deaths: smoking 87%, radon 11% and other pollutants 2%.
Radon (Rn-222) was discovered in 1900 in Germany. The United States became aware of the radon problem in homes in 1984 when a worker at the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant in Pennsylvania entered the exit (which had a radiation sensor) and set off the alarm because of the radon in his clothes that were contaminated in his home. His house tested at over 2,000 pCi/L.
The 1988 – Indoor Radon Abatement Act (IRAA) established a long-term goal that indoor air be as free from radon as the ambient air outside buildings. The law authorized funds for radon-related activities at the state and federal levels:
- establishing state programs and providing technical assistance
- establishing training centers and a proficiency program for firms offering radon services
- conducting radon surveys of schools and federal buildings
- developing a citizen’s guide to radon
- developing model construction standards.
Radon Health Effects
Radon gas decays into particulates referred to as radon progeny or radon decay products that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down further, these particles release high-impacting alpha particles. These alpha particles can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime. Not everyone exposed to elevated levels of radon decay products will develop lung cancer and the onset of the disease may occur after many years.
Like other environmental pollutants, there is some uncertainty about the magnitude of radon health risks. However, we know more about radon risks than risks from most other cancer-causing substances.
Three factors affect your chances of getting cancer from radon: ‘
- the average radon level,
- how much time you spend in your house, and
- whether you have smoked or are a current smoker.
Radon Map of United States
In order for there to be radon in a house, three things need to be present:
- uranium in the ground,
- a pathway for the radon to get into the home, and
- a driving force that causes radon to be drawn in—typically through the foundation. The formation of the earth and subsequent geological development determines where there are deposits of naturally occurring uranium.
Above is a radon potential map of the United States by county. The maps use terminology of Zones 1, 2 and 3 (Zone 1 is greater than 4pCi/L, Zone 2 is between 2 and 4 pCi/L, Zone 3 is less than 2 pCi/L).
However, these are just estimates. The radon levels can range greatly within a county and even within a city or neighborhood. Even within the same zip code there can be three houses in a row with two on the outside having elevated levels and the one in the middle not. The only way to know if a house has elevated radon levels is to test the house; and that is where the home inspector can offer a professional radon service.
- Surgeon General Press Release 2005
- American Cancer Society – Facts and Figures 2012
- Iowa Study
- Kurt Saloman, 2011 ASHI President