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View original article: Potomac News, Inside NoVA

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 technician.

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.