Cancer is hitting a little closer to home these days. The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures for 2010 says about 569,490 Americans are expected to die of cancer this year. That is more than 1,500 people a day. In the U.S., cancer accounts for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths.
According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer accounts for more deaths than any other cancer in both men and women. Smoking, second hand smoke and radon are the leading causes of lung cancer. Radon, a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas, is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked.
Radon forms from the decay of naturally occurring uranium, which is found in soil and rock throughout the world. It typically enters the home through cracks in the foundation wall or floors, gaps in suspended floors, around pipes or construction joints, as well as through cavities inside the walls. It can also enter through the water supply, although the EPA says in most cases the radon entering the home through water is a small risk compared with radon entering your home from the soil.
The EPA’s booklet “A Citizen’s Guide to Radon,” says nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S. is estimated to have elevated radon levels. And radon has been detected in every state. The only way to know if your home has dangerous levels of radon is to test it. The amount of radon in the air is measured in “Pico curies per liter of air,” or “pCi/L.” There are low-cost “do-it-yourself” radon test kits available through the mail and in hardware stores and other retail outlets. However, you can also hire a qualified radon tester to do the testing for you.
If you find you have radon in your home, it is possible to reduce radon levels.
Some techniques prevent radon from entering your home while others reduce radon levels after it has entered. EPA generally recommends methods which prevent the entry of radon. Soil suction, for example, prevents radon from entering your home by drawing the radon from below the home and venting it through a pipe, or pipes, to the air above the home where it is quickly diluted.
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An effective method to reduce radon levels in homes with crawlspaces involves covering the earth floor with a high-density plastic sheet. A vent pipe and fan are used to draw the radon from under the sheet and vent it to the outdoors.
Sealing cracks and other openings in the foundation is a basic part of most approaches to radon reduction. Sealing the cracks limits the flow of radon into your home, thereby making other radon reduction techniques more effective and cost-efficient.
U.S. Surgeon General Health Advisory Richard Carmona said it best in 2005 when he issued a National Health Advisory on Radon. “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,” he said. “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.”
While we are not yet able to cure cancer, we can do what we can to eliminate carcinogens in our homes.
Lou Cole is the president and owner of Emecole, Inc., a leading supplier in crawl space sealing and insulation materials for contractors throughout the United States and Canada. For more information about Emecole’s basement waterproofing and indoor air quality control line of products, visit http://www.emecole.com or write to 50 E. Montrose Dr. P.O. Box 7486, Romeoville, IL 60446.
There’s been a bit of a myth being tossed around about a frog’s reaction to the gradual increase of heat. Some claim that if a frog is placed in warm water that the frog will not attempt to escape even as the water begins to boil-thus, the frog dies. Others say that the frog will not sit still long enough for the water to boil, or that the frog would absolutely notice the change and try to escape.
However, the scenario has been likened to snake rescue, where one expert has said that a snake will rest on a “hot rock” even if the rock becomes extraordinarily hot and eventually kills the snake. Let’s assume this perspective is correct and that some reptiles don’t respond or even recognize an obvious and deadly change in their environment. Does it suffice to say that we as humans may sometimes be unaware of the hazards that slowly develop within the very comforts of our own homes? Some would say, yes.
Radon Enters The Scenario
Many people have died as the result of carbon monoxide poisoning, which has been known to increase over time without an individual even noticing. This is why many states have requirements for carbon monoxide detectors. Radon poisoning can and does have the same ill-fated effects as carbon monoxide poisoning and the reptile stories mentioned above.
Radon is the result of soil’s uranium decay. As this process occurs, polonium is released and this creates radon’s toxicity. Unfortunately, radon commonly goes unnoticed, not because of ignorance but because of the gas’ translucence and ability to go under the human radar.
It is invisible. It has no taste, form or scent. So, it’s not all that uncommon for a person to unknowingly live in a home with extraordinarily high levels of radon. Although radon is quite frightening to discuss, it’s very real and more importantly-it’s easy to fix!
Let’s learn more about the effects of overexposure to radon gas and then we’ll discuss the testing and radon mitigation resources that are available in Virginia.
Radon-The Second Leading Cause of Lung Cancer
By now, the harmful effects of cigarette smoke is no hidden secret, but for many years smoking was part of relaxation and for some, a past time. Smoking cigarettes and living in a home with radon gas has one thing in common- lung cancer.
Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer and radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer. However, radon takes the lead as the leading cause of lung cancer amongst non-smokers. By the simple process of elimination, radon is a killer and just as cigarettes have gotten away with murder, radon is still getting away with over 20 thousand deaths a year in the U.S. alone-according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has documented about 15 percent of the world’s lung cancer cases as being caused by radon poisoning.
Low Radon Levels Are Still Dangerous
It’s easy to think that the worst thing possible could never happen to you; in fact that’s optimism at its best. However, when radon is involved in the equation, optimism can coexist with being proactive and safe. Even if a home has somewhat low, or what is considered to be low risk levels of radon, it’s still a good idea to call a professional to mitigate and get the levels as low as possible.
“We know that radon is a carcinogen. This research confirms that breathing low levels of radon can lead to lung cancer,” said Tom Kelly, the director of the EPA’s Indoor Environments Division.
“Most radon-induced lung cancers occur from low and medium dose exposures in people’s homes. Radon is the second most important cause of lung cancer after smoking in many countries,” said Dr. Maria Neira of the WHO.
Radon Levels in Virginia
According to the studies performed by Air Chek, Inc., the national average of radon levels in the U.S. is 1.3 pCi/L (Picocuries) and potentially more than 70 percent of the counties in Virginia maintain a level of radon even higher than 1.3.
Although the EPA has defined 4.0 pCi/L as the “requires action” level, many organizations including the WHO have found that even low levels of radon can be problematic, as we’ve already learned.
Virginia, like West Virginia, has many counties harboring very high levels of radon. However, Virginia is looking a bit better than West Virginia that only has six of the 50 counties with a minimal risk of radon. Meanwhile, Virginia has just below 50 percent of the counties in danger and about a quarter of the excess counties in moderate danger.
Though shocking and even a little scary, these numbers don’t define your home’s levels. In fact, you could have low levels of radon. But, regardless of the level, you want to know your family is safe. The best way to do that is to have your home tested for radon and to be sure to have annual checkups to be sure your mitigation system is working efficiently. As the earth’s soil changes, climate and your home changes, the radon levels can also adjust either by increasing or decreasing over time. That’s why it’s important to work with an expert in minimizing the radon levels in your home.
The EPA has defined three defining zones for radon levels: high, moderate and minimal concern. It appears that the southeast counties of Virginia have maintained a minimal risk as the rest of the state varies between high and moderate concern.
Here are three examples of Virginia counties with different levels of radon.
Southampton County is considered to be at low risk with 11% high concern, 21% moderate and 69% low.
Wise County is considered moderate risk with 38% high, 18% moderate and 52% low.
Lee County is considered at high risk with 41% high, 15% moderate and 44% low.
Although these all have different overall averages, each county has a percent of homes with high radon levels. This means that all homeowners regardless of the county should have their home checked for radon. What are your levels?
Your home’s radon levels can be lessened and you can be saved from the radon toxicity by contacting your local radon mitigation expert.
If you want a Virginia radon expert to mitigate your home and identify your home’s radon level, be sure to contact Evergreen Basement Systems. They offer radon mitigation in Virginia as well as other home improvement services such as basement, crawl space, and foundation repair, and basement waterproofing.
Samantha Walton currently works as a web content writer for home improvement sites. She’s a college graduate with a B.A. in communication and a concentration in public relations. She’s aspiring to one day further her education with a seminary degree. Her experience ranges from internships in marketing and public relations, content writing for local television broadcasts, to writing and editing newsletters, fliers, and other content for her local church.
Knowing about radon is more important than ever before, as new facts emerge about its deadly consequences. The United States Surgeon General re-emphasized to the nation in January of 2010 the fact that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking in the U.S. If you smoke AND the radon levels in your home are high, you will have a very high risk for lung cancer. What can you do? Plenty! And it’s easy.
First, what is radon? Radon comes from the natural radioactive breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water, and ends up in the air we breathe. Radon is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. Although radon is found in all types of buildings, we get most of our exposure when we’re at home. Radon can exist in the air, and in our water source. Although radon levels vary throughout the United States, radon has been found in every state. You can see the average levels of radon by pulling up the maps on the internet by typing in radon maps.
What levels of radon are ok? Radon in the air is measured in “picocuries per liter of air”, or “pCi/L”. Generally speaking, levels less than 4 pCi/L are considered safe, although if you can reduce the levels further it’s a good idea. The really good news in all of this is that you can TEST for radon, and you can put systems in the home to lower radon levels. The systems for lowering the levels are relatively inexpensive. If you have a reading of just over 4pCi/L, you may be able to do some simple sealing of leaks around the crawlspace, foundation, or basement of your home to lower the levels in the home itself.
How should I get my home tested? Who should install a mitigation system if I need one? Good news here too. Testing your home is easy. The first way is to do it yourself by going to a home improvement store and buying a test kit. Follow the directions carefully to ensure the most accurate results. The second way to test your home is to call a professional radon tester. These individuals are trained and certified to administer and interpret the test and can advise you on what to do if your levels are high. The cost to get a professional to test your home is low – usually $125-$200. They will come to your home and leave several test canisters open to the air. They will give you specific instructions for the 2 days the canisters are active. They will then return and send the canister media to a certified, registered laboratory that will have the analysis within one or two days. You can contact your state radon office for a list of professionals who have registered with them, or you can call a local home inspector who routinely performs radon testing as part of the home sale. If you discover through testing that you need a radon reduction system, you should ask your professional tester for referrals or check with the state radon office. The person or company you choose should be a qualified, licensed contractor, preferably certified in radon mitigation, and you should get more than one estimate.
The last piece of good news is if you do need to reduce the levels of radon in your home, it is not expensive to do. A vent and fan system is usually the first line of defense, and will lower the radon to acceptable levels over 85% of the time. NOTE: If you do your own test and the reading comes out over 4pCi/L, I recommend that you call a professional for another test of your home to confirm your own reading.
There is a lot more that you can learn about radon by going to the Environmental Protection Agency’s web site (www.epa.gov) and by going to http://www.radon.com.
About the Author: Lisa P. Turner is a certified home inspector, radon tester, and licensed general contractor. Her company, Your Inspection Expert, Inc., inspects homes for safety and functionality for home buyers, sellers, owners, mortgage companies, and construction companies. Visit http://www.YourInspectionExpert.com for information and more tips to maximize the value of your home.
Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas that occurs naturally. It is a chemical element existing as a by-product of the natural decay of uranium, an element in the ground that been around since the earth was formed therefore it is found in low levels everywhere. When radon becomes trapped in buildings, concentrations can increase in indoor air and radon exposure then becomes a concern.
We need to be very much alert that radon is a deadly gas. It is one of the leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, only second to cigarette smoking which is the number one responsible for lung cancer deaths. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Surgeon General have strongly recommended that all residences (except those above the 2nd floor in multi-level buildings) be tested for radon. Needless to say, smokers with high levels of radon in the home has much greater risk of getting lung cancer.
How Radon Gets in Home Uranium is a radioactive element that decays and forms radium which gives off radon gas, it then travels up through the ground and infiltrates the water and air we breathe. When it reaches the surface of the ground, the gas can go directly into the air where it does not usually do any damage, or it can seep into a building where it collects and causes health problems.
Some parts of the US are more susceptible to radon gas than others. The difference between the higher pressure in the soil around your home’s foundation and the lower air pressure inside your home makes your house act like vacuum, that radon gas gets drawn in through cracks, open seams, holes and just about any openings below the surface of the ground.
Since radon may also presents in well water, it can be released into the air in your home via showering water and other household water uses, though the risk is small compared to the radon amount entered from the soil. For small number of homes, the building materials may also give off radon gas, although they rarely cause problems alone.
Methods to Detect Radon Level You have to perform a test in order to find out if radon is in a building. That is the only way. The EPA recommends two ways of testing:
Short-Term or Passive Testing – This is the cheapest and quickest way. Depending on the device you choose, they can remain in your home for 2 to 90 days. Charcoal canisters, electret ion chamber, continuous monitors and charcoal liquid scintillation detectors are most commonly used in short term testing. Because radon levels tend to vary from day to day and season to season, a short term test offers a less conclusive evaluation than a long term test. For quickest yet firmer results, do a short term test followed by another passive test as such.
Many types of low cost short term “do it yourself” radon test kits are available in hardware stores and home centers. Make sure to buy a test kit that has passed EPA’s testing program or is state certified. You should see phrase like “Meets EPA Requirements” displayed on the kits. They are quite inexpensive.
Long Term or Active Testing – This is a more expensive way and the testing kit has to be remained in the home for more than 90 days. There are two types of commonly used test kits: Alpha track and electret detectors. A long term test gives you a reading that is most likely to tell your home’s year round average radon level. Radon gas detectors that monitor gas levels on a continuous basis are also available.
Hire an EPA qualified or state certified radon tester if you prefer, some lenders may require certified test results to close the transaction when buying or selling a home.
How to Use a Radon Test Kit Always follow the instructions that come with the test kit. Place the radon test kit in the lowest living space of the property. It should be put in a room that is used regularly, but not your kitchen or bathroom. Put the kit at least 20 inches above the floor in a location where it won’t be disturbed. Keep it away from drafts, high heat, high humidity and exterior walls. Leave the kit in place for as long as the package says, do not take away earlier than that. When finished testing, reveal the package, send it to the package specified lab directly. Normally you should receive the results within a couple of weeks.
Note that if you are doing a very short test that lasts only 2-3 days, be sure to close your windows and outside doors at least 12 hours in advance; for longer period of testing, keep the windows and outside doors as much as possible during the test. Keep in mind: Do Not conduct 2 to 3-day passive tests during severe storms or unusually high winds. The results will not be accurate.
Interpreting Test Results The amount of radon in the air is generally measured in picocuries of radon per liter of air (pCi/l), or may be expressed in Working Levels (WL) sometimes. Based on the EPA standards, amount of radon that is higher than 4 pCi/l or 0.002 WL is considered too high that corrective measures should be taken to fix the problem. If your initial short term test result is higher than 4 pCi/l or 0.002 WL, the EPA recommends that you take a second test to be sure. For a better understanding of the radon levels in your home, taking a long term test is recommended.
Any radon exposure carries some risk, even the levels below EPA set standard. So lower the radon amount sometimes is necessary. This would be in the next hub – Radon Reduction Techniques.
(c)Copyrighted: You may freely republish this article as long as author bio and active hyperlinks are included.
Sub-slab depressurization or sub-slab suction is probably the most reliable and effective radon mitigation technique. It involves an insertion of a pipe (usually 4 inches in diameter) through the floor slab into the soil or gravel under the foundation. This can be done either from inside the house, or inserted under the slab from the outside. As a side note, this technique is used for houses with a basement or slab-on-grade foundation. If your house has a crawl space, a different technique is used.
Just to give you a quick idea of what’s involved, you’ll need to create a hole (aka suction point) in your slab (approx 4 inches in diameter), remove as much soil and/or gravel from under the foundation as possible, put in place a pipe running out from this suction point to a suitable location, where a special exhaust fan will generate vacuum pressure that will draw radon out from underneath the slab to the outside, thus preventing the radon gas from entering your home. Right, you may say, and I know, because that’s what I said when I first read about this a few years back. Believe me, if you do this right, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t, you’ll see a remarkable decrease in your radon levels, which will often be accompanied by a fresher indoor air quality as well (this is one positive side effect of installing this system).
Now, there are different ways of going about this, but I am going to go through one example … in my opinion probably the most likely solution for the majority of home owners (remember, this is not for a house with a crawl space)
My best advice for you is to pick the spot most convenient to run the pipe out of the basement and start there with a hole. I do think that a suction point near the footer tends to produce better results because there is often more settling there, but really that is not of the greatest importance. You should definitely determine where the pipe will have to exit the basement before you start drilling holes in your floor. Also make sure you are aware of potential drain and water pipes, and possible electrical conduits or in-floor heating.
I am going to assume that if you plan on doing this yourself, you don’t need me to tell you how to make a hole in your slab. Well anyway, one way is to drill a series of holes and then chisel and hammer out the cement chunk. The hole should be slightly larger than the 4” pipe you’ll be using.
Once you have the hole made, it’s time to dig. This is probably the worst part of the job, and it could be relatively easy or very hard, depending on what lies underneath. For best results try removing as much as possible. You are trying to create a sort of a vacuum chamber under the slab that will draw in radon and moisture from underneath the entire foundation, so this can make or break your mitigation system. No matter what you have underneath the slab, be it sand, gravel, soil, or any combination of these, try to get 20-30 gallons out, and more if possible, specially for tight soils. REMEMBER this will be the difference between a mitigation system that works and one that doesn’t.
When we did our house, I spent hours scraping away buckets of dirt and gravel till my forearms were bruised. I managed to get about 30 gallons out, and let me tell you, it was worth it.
RUNNING THE PIPES
If you have an attached garage, I would recommend going from the basement, into the garage, and then to the attic, as this is the most feasible solution. Your second choice is to go through the floor above, perhaps through a closet or some other point where the pipe is either not visible or will be easily concealed, and then into the attic where your suction fan would be. The third choice is taking the pipe outside of your house. Personally, I think an outside system should be avoided all together unless there aren’t any other options. Even if it takes a little more effort on your part, try and stick to the indoors for your piping and fan system. Colder climates especially will result in a lot of condensation that can reduce the life expectancy of your radon exhaust fan. You can purchase a condensation bypass kit if you mount your fan outside to prevent water and condensation from ruining your motor.
Back to work… Now that you have your suction point ready, you can use a coupler and secure it using a foam backer (but really you can also use whatever you see fit). Once all your pipes are in place and secure you should caulk this joint for an airtight seal. For the piping, you can use any type of good PVC piping that will fit into whatever you’re using, and make sure that you measure well before you glue your PVC to your elbows and joints. In our home we used a 4 inch sewer pipe and glueless joints/elbows (they have a double rubber seal on the inside to form a water and air proof seal, and the advantage is that you can separate the pipes if you mess up. The only downside is that they are a few bucks more, and really hard to put on, or take off for that matter).
Contrary to what you might be thinking, you cannot just use any ordinary fan for this job. If you are going to invest your time and energy into this, you have to do things right, and you’ll need a special fan that is capable of creating vacuum pressure under the slab without the fan burning out, that can withstand the elements, cold, and moisture, and that will do the job quietly and efficiently.
For your safety, you exhaust Fan has to be located outside of your home’s living space. This leaves you with an option to put your fan in the garage, the attic, or outside. Furthermore, the pipe leading from your fan to the outside must terminate above the plane of the roof, and must be no closer than 10 feet horizontally from windows that open. This is to minimize the possibility of radon re-entering your home.
The size and price of your fan will vary and depends on the square footage of your foundation. The type of soil also plays a role in the fan decision, as you might need a more powerful fan for tighter soils.
As an example if your foundation is anywhere up to 1200 Square feet and your sub-soil is a gravel mixture, an RP145 by RadonAway should be quite sufficient. Most retailers will have a chart or table of different fans, ranging from 3” to 8” duct systems, the latter being used for large projects, such as a school.
Finally no matter where you end up placing your fan, you will need to bring it power. For this, you might need to call an electrician, or not, depending on whether you have a plug-in nearby. Luckily, my father is an electrician, and so we have our fan wired in directly to a switch for ease of maintenance. As you might have guessed we have the RP145 fan installed in the attic above our garage, and it is virtually silent.
As a side note, each fan comes with a suggested maximum operating pressure. This basically informs you how well your entire mitigation system is performing, how much pressure is being created by the fan, and whether you have sufficient airflow under the slab. To keep an eye on your system and to see that it is functioning nominally, I strongly suggest getting something like this Installation Kit for RadonAway System . It includes a manometer which basically tells you what pressure your system is holding. It’s inexpensive, easy to install, and well worth it. These kits also include couplings, which are intended to tie in your fan to the PVC piping(shown in the picture with the RP145 Fan) and I’d recommend using these, as they allow not only for a perfect tight fit with your piping, but also easy future fan replacement or maintenance.
Our radon levels in the basement were always hovering at around 25 and up to 31 pci/L, and around 20 pci/L on the main floor, during the cold winter months. Summers were ranging from 8 to 12 pci/L. After we installed the subslab mitigation system our levels are averaging 1.4 during the coldest months, and 0.4 to 0.8 pci/L in the summer. The picture to the right is from our own Safety Siren Pro 3 Radon Detector. Click on it to see a larger version. It was taken on January 31, 2010. We have been using it for over 2 years now, and had several of our neighbours borrow it for some time as well. If you find that you have a radon problem, you are probably better off getting one of these instead of the charcoal or alpha track test kits that need to be sent in to a lab. These are not cheap, they go for US $130.00, but they are very accurate and convenient to use.
If you are interested in prices or would like to purchase one, here are a couple of suppliers in the States. They also provide a lot of additional information about their products.
Radon Zone – These guys are offering free shipping, unfortunately they only ship to the States (sorry Canadian customers). They supply other, short and long term, radon test kits, as well as the Safety Siren Pro 3.
National Safety Products – These guys dont offer free shipping but they do ship to Canada, and they do offer discounts if you plan on purchasing more than one item. They also supply other radon products.
I wish you all the best and hope you get those radon levels down just like we did.
Rn is the chemical symbol for radon. It is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally and can be found in soils, rock, and water throughout the world. It has numerous different isotopes, but radon-220, and -222 are the most common. Radon is a gas that is created in the soils where uranium and radium are found. Since these elements can be found everywhere in the world any building has the potential for elevated levels of radon. The more uranium found in the soil, the higher the potential for elevated radon levels within that building.
Because radon is an inert (or noble) gas, meaning that it does not react or combine chemically with other substances except under certain special conditions, it can move up through the soil into the atmosphere, where it is easily diluted and presents little concern. However, when radon enters a building, it can build up and become a health concern
You cannot see or smell radon, and there is no way that your body can sense the presence of radon; however, it can have a detrimental effect on the inhabitants by increasing their likelihood of developing lung cancer.
Since radium 226 can be found in low concentrations in almost all rock and soil, it is not a question of “if”, but “how much” radon you really have. Radon is generated in rock and soil and it escapes into the atmosphere through cracks and spaces between the rocks and soil. This results in an average outdoor radon concentration of about 0.4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter of air). At these concentrations there is no real danger. However, if radon is allowed to seep into homes and buildings through cracks and holes in the foundations and walls, the concentration can build up to much higher levels, at which point research suggests there is a reason for concern.
The average indoor radon concentration is about 1.3 pCi/l. Radon concentrations in a home can very depending on several factors including; house design, soil conditions, local geology, and the weather, such as high or low atmospheric pressures, and warm or cold climate. For example, indoor radon levels increase substantially during the winter months. As indoor temperatures increase relative to the outside temperatures, a thermal effect occurs. The rising warm air within a building is displaced by cold denser outside air, some of which seeps in through the foundation cracks, vents, and holes from the underlying soils.
Furthermore, exhaust fans inside the house can create a lower (negative) pressure inside the home relative to the surrounding soil and air, and radon can actually be drawn into the building.