Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that has the potential to cause serious health problems for those who spend a lot of their time indoors, in a house that is high in radon levels. Unfortunately, for most residents of Colorado – anywhere between 50 and 73 percent, in fact – this is what they have to deal with. Almost the entire state of Colorado sprang up on a bed of granite, which contains unusually high levels of uranium. When uranium decays sufficiently, it becomes radium, which is an element that gives off radon gas.
Does My Home Contain Radon?
In short, yes, if you have built or bought a home in Colorado, it is likely your home contains radon. How high a quantity of radon is dependent on a variety of factors:
Ventilation – As a gas, radon is always striving to go upwards – to the fresh air and out into the atmosphere. If your home is well ventilated – with, say, an HVAC system of some sort, the gas will be able to escape to the outside world much easier. If, during the summer months, you keep your windows open all day long, this will help circulate the air far better in your home, which will reduce the presence of dangerous levels of radon.
Building Location – Radon is often commonly found in high concentrations in homes that are built lower to the soil – for example, the presence of radon is not often found in as high a concentration in homes built at elevation, as it is at homes built at sea-level. The lower you are, the higher the likelihood of high concentrations of radon in your home.
Poor Construction – This is one of the biggest contributing factors to radon in the home. If you want to keep your home as free of radon as possible, you have to minimize the amount of places it can enter the home through – this means checking regularly for cracks in your exterior walls, and making sure your foundation is solid. Any cracks in these locations will lead to a higher concentration of radon in the home. Other possible entry points for radon are poorly insulated plumbing and drains. If you get your water from a well, you should also get that well water regularly tested for radon.
Unfortunately, as radon is a colourless, odorless and tasteless gas, you won’t know it’s there. This is why it is critical to get your home tested for radon every few months.
How Do I Get My Home Tested?
The Department of Public Health in Colorado has made available DIY testing kits for free. However, if you are unsure of this, it is highly recommended you obtain professional help.
There are many private businesses in Colorado that will come to your home and perform radon tests in some of the lower areas of the house and determine where the highest concentrations are.
The EPA and Department of Public Health have set the ‘safe’ level of radon in a home at 4 picocuries per liter of air. If, following your tests, your concentration is either at this level or below, you do not have to take immediate action. If your home tests above this level, it is highly recommended you take immediate action.
What Immediate Action Should I Take?
There are several courses of action you can take to mitigate the amount of radon in your home.
Increasing Air Circulation
One of the most effective ways to decrease the harmful levels of radon in your home is to increase your air circulation. If it is the spring, summer, or autumn, you should open as many windows in your house as possible and comfortable, and let the air flow through. It is also advised you spend as much time outside as possible to allow yourself to breathe in better quality air.
Unfortunately, opening the windows doesn’t work all year round, and given Colorado’s harsh winters, if you are concerned about the presence of radon in the home during the winter months, you should install an internal ventilation system to aid in the cleansing of the air.
Radon Mitigation System
If you find yourself having to deal with the radon problem in the winter, it is advised you spend the money on installing an HVAC system or install a radon mitigation fan. This is a pump that is installed within the walls of your house and pumps out harmful radon-laden air through a tube that is vented to the outside of your house.
These mitigation systems can be purchased with the Department of Public Health aid, or the EPA, as financing options are available for lower-income households. However, if you can afford it, a typical mitigation system, such as a fan, will cost anywhere from $800-$1500, depending on the design complexities of the space.
Once installed, you should get your home tested again for radon, to ensure that the device is working properly. If so, your home should eventually well under the 4 picocuries/liter of air that is the ‘safe’ standard adopted by the EPA/Department of Public Health.
What If I Start To Feel Sick?
Unfortunately, radon poisoning is among the leading causes of cancer in the United States, second only to smoking. It kills an average of 20,000 Americans each year. Radon emits harmful radiation and other toxins that most affect the lungs, causing lung cancer among long-time, unaware consumers of radon.
If you’re in a home that has tested positive for unsafe levels of radon, you should talk to your doctor about running a variety of tests, to see if/how the gas has affected your body.
If you are experiencing the following symptoms: shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing up blood, frequent bouts of bronchitis or pneumonia – it is imperative you go and see your doctor and get a biopsy of your lungs. While isolated symptoms may not be the worst-case scenario, you should definitely talk to your doctor if you are experiencing multiple symptoms.