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Radon: Is Your Home Trapping Radiation?

Radon is on the EPA's top ten list of household pollutants. A relatively unknown pollutant, the testing is relatively inexpensive.

Some of most dangerous pollutants inside your home are invisible to the senses and their affect on your health can be cumulative, slowly contributing to poorer health over months or years. Radon is principle among them.

Most of us know little about what radon is, much less the dangers it can represent. In short, radon is radioactive gas that enters your home through the soil and water underground. Radon gas comes from the natural decay of uranium found in the Earth’s soil.

You can’t see, smell or taste radon. Radon can enter your home through cracks in your foundation, gaps around service pipes or suspended floors, cavities in walls, or the water supply. Radon gas can be found in buildings throughout the United States, indicating a need for testing in all areas.

Accurate statistics regarding the health effects of radon gas exposure are difficult to come by and debated considerably, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that radon contributes to 21,000 cases of fatal lung cancer annually. If you smoke, the health effects of radon gas exposure are heightened, greatly increasing your chance of lung cancer.

Ok, enough of the scary stuff. The good news is, that measuring the amount of radon in your home is relatively easy and inexpensive. Short-term radon test kits can be found at hardware stores and online. They take only a few minutes to perform and can quickly assess whether or not the radon present in your home has reached a level high enough to pose a health risk.

It’s important to understand that radon is found everywhere, even outdoors. Radon gas is measured in “picocuries per liter of air” or “pCi/L”. Normal outdoor readings of radon measure 0.4 pCi/L while average indoor radon readings of 1.3 pCi/L are common. Should your test conclude that the radon inside your home is greater than 4.0 pCi/L you should confirm the results with a second test or call a professional radon mitigation company.

Remedies to control radon take a variety of forms, but typically involve a system of ventilation pipes designed to capture the seeping radioactive gas and ventilate them above your home. Sealing the cracks and openings in your basement or floor slabs will help to keep radon from entering your home. If you have a crawlspace like many homes in Redwood City, you’ll want to be sure that a thick layer of plastic is laid down over the floor of the space under which a radon ventilation pipe system has been installed.

Indeed, if you're planning to install a new foundation or to build an addition on to your home, be sure to install a system to capture the radon in your home. Finally, make sure that the ventilation of your home is adequate to circulate a steady mix of fresh air throughout your home.

Radon doesn’t capture a lot of media attention. It doesn’t necessarily capture the attention and imagination of readers and reporters alike. Yet, the threat is real.

Radon exposure accounts for one of the top ten pollutants inside our homes. A part of any assessment of the quality of air inside your home should involve testing for radon.

About this column: Dustin is a green building contractor and blogger living on the Peninsula. Every week he'll bring you information and tips on how you can make your home and life more environmentally friendly and save on energy bills, whether it's through affordable remodeling, changing your lighting or recycling water.

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