RADON IN YOUR HOME
DO YOU KNOW THE RISKS?
Are you aware that a killer may be hiding in your home? Radon
is a harmful radioactive gas that you can't see, smell or
taste. But, when you breathe air containing radon you increase
your chances of getting cancer. The Surgeon General has warned
that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the
United States today, killing an estimated 14,000 people each
year. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths . If you
smoke and your home has high radon levels , your risk of lung
cancer is especially high.
Radon has been found all over the U.S., including New Mexico.
It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil rock
and water and gets into the air you breathe. Radon typically
moves up through the ground to the air above and into your
home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Sometimes
radon enters a home through well water.
Any home can have a radon problem. This means new and old
homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with and without
basements. Nearly 1 out of 15 homes in the US is estimated
to have elevated radon levels. In New Mexico, the north central
part of the state including Bernalillo and Santa Fe Counties
are considered high risk areas. Up to 30% of homes tested
in Albuquerque and 40% in Santa Fe have shown radon levels
which exceed the EPA recommended norms.
TESTING FOR RADON
Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are
at risk from radon. Do not rely on radon test results taken
in other homes in the neighborhood to estimate the radon levels
in your home. Homes which are next to each other can have
different indoor radon levels. If you find you have high radon
levels there are ways to fix the problem. Even very high levels
can be reduced to acceptable levels. Testing is easy and should
only take a few minutes of your time.
The amount of radon in the air is measured in "picocuries
per liter of air," or "pCi/L." Sometimes test
results are expressed in Working Levels (WL). There are many
kinds of low cost "do it yourself" radon test kits
you can get through the mail and in hardware stores and and
other retail outlets. Make sure you buy a test kit that is
EPA approved. The City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County
Environmental Health Departments also sell test kits. If you
prefer, or if you are buying or selling a home, you can hire
a EPA certified contractor to do the testing for you.
There are two general ways to test for radon:
Short Term Testing is the quickest way to test. Short-term
tests remain in your home for two to 90 days, depending on
the device. Charcoal canisters, alpha track , electret ion
chamber, continuous monitors,and charcoal liquid scintillation
detectors are most commonly used for short-term testing. Because
radon levels tend to vary from day to day and season to season,
a short-term test will not generally tell you your year round
average radon level.
Long Term Testing requires tests to remain in your home for
more than 90 days. Alpha track and electret detectors are
commonly used for this type of testing. A long-term test will
give you a reading that is more likely to tell you your home's
year round average radon level than a short term test.
For accurate results, follow the instructions that come with
your test kit. If you are doing a short-term test, close the
windows and outside doors and keep them closed as much as
possible during the test and at least 12 hours before beginning
the test. You should not conduct short-term tests lasting
just 2 or 3 days during unusually severe storms or periods
of high winds. The test kit should be placed in the lowest
level of the home. It should be put in a room that is used
regularly (like a living room, playroom, den, or bedroom)
but not your kitchen or bathroom. Place the kit at least 20
inches above the floor in a location where it won't be disturbed
- away from drafts, high heat, high humidity, and exterior
walls. Leave the kit in place for as long as the package says.
Once you've finished the test , reseal the package and send
it to the lab specified right away for study. You should receive
your test results within a few weeks.
The EPA recommends the following testing process: Step 1.
Take a short-term test. If your result is 4 PCi/L or higher,
follow up with a second short-term test or a long-term test.
Step 2. If you followed up with a long-term test; fix your
home if your long-term test is 4 pCi/L or more. If you followed
up with a second short-term test ; consider fixing your home
if the average of your first and second test is 4 pCi/L or
LOWERING THE RADON LEVEL IN YOUR HOME
Since there is no safe level of radon, there can always be
some risk. But the risk can be reduced by lowering the level
of radon in your home. A variety of methods are used to reduce
radon levels. In some cases, sealing cracks in floors and
walls may help. In other cases, simple systems using pipes
and fans may be used to reduce radon. Such systems are called
"sub-slab depressurization," and do not require
major changes to your home. These systems remove radon gas
from below the concrete slab before it can enter your home.
Similar systems can also be installed in houses with crawl
spaces. Radon contractors may use other methods depending
on the design of your home.
If you are planning any major structural renovation it is
especially important to test the area for radon before you
begin the renovation. If your test results indicate a radon
problem, radon resistant techniques can be inexpensively included
as part of the renovation. Because major renovations can change
the level of radon in any home, always test again after the
work is completed. If you are constructing a new home, radon
resistant features can be included a a lower cost than retrofitting
an existing home. Even if high radon levels are found after
occupancy, passive systems can be easily activated by installing
The cost of making repairs to reduce radon depends on how
your home was built and the extent of the radon problem. Most
homes can be fixed for about the same cost as other common
home repairs like painting or having a new hot water heater
installed. The average house costs about $1200 for a contractor
to fix, although this can range from about $500 to about $2500.
The EPA recommends that you have a qualified contractor fix
your home because lowering radon levels requires specific
technical knowledge and special skills. Without the proper
equipment or technical knowledge, you could actually increase
your radon level or create other potential hazards. You should
use a contractor who is trained to fix radon problems. The
EPA Radon Contractor Proficiency (RCP) Program tests these
contractors. A contractor who has passed the EPA test will
carry a special RCP identification card. Picking someone to
fix your radon problem is much like choosing a contractor
for other home repairs-you may want to get references and
more than one estimate. If you decide to do the work yourself,
get information on appropriate training courses and copies
of EPA's technical guidance documents.
In any case, you should test you home again after it is fixed
to be sure that radon levels have been reduced. In addition,
it's a good idea to retest your home sometime in the future
to be sure radon levels remain low.
Information in this article was provided by the US Environmental
Protection Agency and Department of Health and Human Services