“Great hairy horned toads! We’ve got Radon in the basement! RADON!!!! Honey – get the kids out of the house! Call 9-1-1! Alert the media! The Radon is here!!!! It’s right HERE!!!!!”
Wait . . . . what the heck IS Radon?
If you look it up on Wikipedia, Radon is defined as . . . “a chemical element with symbol Rn and atomic number 86. It is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, occurring naturally as an indirect decay product of uranium or thorium. Its most stable isotope, 222Rn, has a half-life of 3.8 days. Radon is one of the densest substances that remains a gas under normal conditions. It is also the only gas under normal conditions that only has radioactive isotopes, and is considered a health hazard due to its radioactivity. Intense radioactivity has also hindered chemical studies of radon and only a few compounds are known. Radon is formed as one intermediate step in the normal radioactive decay chains, through which thorium and uranium slowly decay into lead.”
What . . . . that doesn’t clear it up for you?
The word “Radon” has become almost a buzzword in the real estate world, and testing for Radon levels is standard when buying a home. Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, occurring naturally as the decay product of uranium, that seeps through the ground and alights into the air. It is nothing new, and it is all around us in varying levels. It is also naturally radioactive, and considered a significant contaminant that affects indoor air quality.
Radon gas can and does accumulate in buildings, especially in confined, low level areas such as basements. As it turns out, radon is estimated to be the largest contributor to the radiation doses that our bodies carry, and studies show a clear link between breathing high concentrations of radon and of lung cancer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking, causing approximately 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the United States.
So, yes . . . . Radon is bad.
Radon levels can vary greatly from place to place . . . . even from one house to another on the same street. Levels can be higher in tightly sealed, well insulated homes, where the gas becomes trapped, or in homes on uranium rich soil, with cracks in walls or foundations. Well water can also contain radon.
Radon testing is usually left to the professionals. Although there are do-it-yourself radon test kits available, there is great debate over their quality and accuracy. Radon reduction treatment can be rather costly. The cost of a professional radon reduction depends on the size and design of a home and the methods that are needed. Typically, costs can range from $800 to $2,500. But there are things that a homeowner can do to diminish Radon levels in the home. Sealing the basement floor and walls by using a concrete sealant, available in any hardware store, and sealing any water drainage systems within the basement can help. So can increasing air flow and ensuring windows and ventilation systems are open and functional . A radon barrier, which is a layer of thick plastic that can cover a crawl space’s area, will block the radon levels attempting to rise from underground. The barrier plastic can be purchased from a hardware store and should be made of polyethylene with a decent thickness. Or, if you are ready to call in the professionals, an exterior radon mitigation system might be just the ticket. Exterior radon mitigation systems are air system devices with ventilators that draw out the radon from basements, and release the radon outside of the house. This is most definitely a job for the pros, and there are quite a few that cater specifically to the needs of radon testing and removal.
The important thing is NOT to panic. Radon is a natural gas, and is and always was all around us. It is a treatable and fixable problem in homes. It is not something that should be overlooked or ignored, but not a cause for terror, either. And a little colorless, odorless gas shouldn’t keep anyone from their dream home. Just be wary, be savvy, and be proactive. And then you and your lungs can live happily ever after.