Radon: Silent but deadly killer
By ROBERT K. MAJOR
Many Realtors® in the area are asking, "why is Radon gas showing up in
Northern Virginia?" The fact is Radon has always been here. As more people
relocate into Northern Virginia, they are requesting Radon testing as part of
their real estate contract. Most people that have experienced a Radon problem
will test again. In addition, homeowners are also becoming more educated about
the deadly gas and are having their homes tested. The weather has also played a
factor this year. With the heavy concentrations of both snow and rain, our
native soils have become less permeable trapping gases below the surface. Those
gases find weaknesses and openings in foundations and enter our homes. All these
factors have lead to more positive reads for high concentrations of Radon
throughout the Northern VA area. Have no fear, because there are ways to
overcome this silent but deadly killer!
Radon is a radioactive gas that originates from the decay of uranium in
rocks, soil, and water. The US Surgeon General warns us that Radon is the second
leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. In fact, The National Academy
of Sciences (NAS) estimates between 15,000 and 22,000 deaths occur each year
from Radon. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 1 out of
every 15 homes in the US has dangerous Radon levels. The statistics are
staggering but with some common sense, we can easily make Radon a non-issue.
The good news is that Radon is easily detectable with a variety of ways to
test for levels in a home. Radon is measured in "picocuries per liter of air" or
(pCi/L). The average indoor level of Radon is 1.3 pCi/L and the outside level is
.4pCi/L. Testing can be short term or long term, but most real estate
transactions use a short-term test, lasting about 48 hours. The most common test
uses activated charcoal. A trained technician places several charcoal canisters
in a basement or the lowest living area and the charcoal absorbs radioactive
particles from the air. The technician returns after 48 hours, seals the
canister, and sends it to a laboratory for results. Within a few days the lab
sends a report explaining the Radon concentrations and provides recommendations.
Although any level of Radon poses some health risk, the EPA only recommends
action if the Radon levels are above 4.0 pCi/L. The EPA has three
classifications: low risk below 2.0 pCi/L, moderate risk 2 - 4 pCi/L, or high
risk as greater than 4.0 pCi/L. The EPA lists Spotsylvania, Stafford, Fairfax,
and several small pockets of Prince William County as high risk. Most of Prince
William, Loudoun, and Fauquier Counties fall in the moderate risk zone. However,
the problem with Radon is you never know where it will show up. Next door
neighbors can have dramatically different readings depending on ground
concentrations, ventilation, or even site grading.
The easiest way to eliminate fears or worries is to have the house tested.
The following is a great list of questions and answers that will help Realtors
®, buyers, and sellers understand Radon and its potential dangers.
1. What is Radon? Radon is an odorless, tasteless,
radioactive gas found in homes all over the United States. Any home, including
new or old with or without basements, can have Radon. It does not discriminate,
and many medical experts consider it the second leading cause of lung cancer. As
Uranium decays and breaks down Radon gas forms and it seeps from ground soil,
rocks, and water until it reaches the atmosphere.
2. How Can Radon Harm Me? When Radon breaks down it releases
radiation and Radon decay particles into the air. Unlike Radon gas, its decay
particles are chemically reactive and highly electrostatic. These particles
attach to water, dust, and smoke and through normal breathing end up in the
lining of your lungs. As the Radon decay particles continue to break down in
your body, they release radiation into your lung tissue. This radiation can
damage your cell structure including altering the genetic code of your DNA. The
cells mutate and future copies may lead to the development of lung cancer.
3. Should I Have My Home Tested For Radon? Testing is the
only way you can determine if you have a Radon problem in your home. The EPA and
Surgeon General recommend testing for all homes that exist below the third
level. Testing for Radon is a simple process that lasts about 48 hours.
Homeowners can conduct their own test or hire a professional. Most real estate
contracts require EPA approved testing methods through a qualified Radon
4. How Does Radon Gas Enter My Home? Your house functions
like a natural vacuum. Oven, bathroom, attic, and dryer vents all pull air from
inside your home. As the air exits your home, negative pressure forms creating a
vacuum effect. As your home fights to equalize, it pulls air in from your
crawlspace, sump pump, cracks or openings in your foundation. If Radon exists
under your house, the vacuum will pull it directly into your home.
5. What Should I Do If I find Radon In My Home? The answer
to this question depends on the concentration levels. Remember, any level of
Radon poses some risk factors but the following is the EPA action guideline for
Radon concentrations. If the Radon level is below 2.0 pCi/L then no action is
required. If the level is between 2.0 and 4.0 pCi/L it is above the national
indoor average of 1.3 pCi/l and the EPA recommends that you consider fixing your
home. At bear minimum you should monitor your home by re-testing every two
years. If the Level is 4.0 pCi/L or greater the EPA recommends that you fix your
home by using an EPA or state-approved contractor.
6. How Do I Fix My Radon Problem? The most widely used
method in fixing or preventing Radon from entering a home is Active Soil
Depressurization (ASD). A contractor will seal your basement with caulk and foam
and will drill one or more 3-4" holes into your foundation. The contractor will
then attach PVC pipe to the openings and will run the piping up and out of your
house. A suction fan will draw air from below your foundation and force it out
above your house, drastically reducing the amount of Radon that can enter your
home. Caulking and sealing alone will not provide adequate protection against
Radon. Once installed the system will run continuously and start to work
immediately. The average mitigation installation cost is between $800 and
$2,500. You should always use a professional contractor trained in Radon
mitigation to fix your Radon problem.
Although Radon is very hazardous and is a known carcinogen, you can protect
yourself from its ill effects. In fact, most mitigation systems can bring the
Radon levels down below the national indoor average. Understanding prevention
and the mitigation process will eliminate fears associated with Radon. With
today’s technology, Radon is easily detectable and fixable, so don’t let this
obstacle become a roadblock in your real estate transaction.
* Major is the Owner/President of Major Home Inspections, Inc. MHI is a
family-owned and operated company located in Prince William County, providing
home inspections, new construction inspections, commercial inspections,
pre-closing inspections, Radon testing, and mold surveys/testing. Email
MHI@Majorhomeinspect@aol.com or 703-590-4411.