Depending on the underlying geology for the area where you live – you might like to consider the usefulness of having Radon test kits.
The element Radon is a naturally occurring gas formed by the radioactive decay of Radium. This makes Radon a radioactive gas which is colorless, odorless and tasteless; subsequently rendering it undetectable to our natural senses.
One isotope of Radon, with a half-life of a little less than 4 days, is used medically in radiotherapy. However, when occurring naturally it has been established that in high concentrations it can lead to the formation of lung cancer.
Measurement of Radon Gas
Radon is one of the many gases that make up the air which we breathe; and under normal conditions is of no significance or threat to us. However, areas local to certain geological conditions and phenomena are known to have higher proportions of Radon in the air where they occur. Such things are some types of igneous rocks, springs and hot springs as well as areas with petroleum oil deposits.
You should be able to easily find a Radon map for your area to determine if you are living in an area likely to have high concentrations of Radon in the air.
Radon gas is measured in units called curies, which establishes rate of decay or activity per cubic liter of air. One curie equals 3.7 x 10(7) radioactive disintegrations per second. Radon in homes will usually be in the pico-curie range; one pico curie (pCi) equals 3.7 x 10(-2) radioactive disintegrations per second.
The only way to find out what the level of Radon gas in the air where you live is to buy a Radon testing kit, or hire a qualified radon testing service. If you get a reading of around, or more than, 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L), you need to reduce the level of Radon in your home, as your risk for developing cancer is significant at that level (For non-smokers exposed to that level of radon gas over their lifetime, about 15 in every 1,000 will get lung cancer).
The vast majority of people live in areas where the level of Radon in indoor air is about 1.3 pCi/L, (about 0.4 pCi/L of radon in the outside air). According to the EPA Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003), even at 2 pCi/L, there is a certain amount of risk, so reducing the radon in your home can be a good idea at between 2 and 4 pCi/L.
Using a Radon Test Kit
Using a Radon test kit is, in actual fact, simplicity itself. The testing kits come with full operating instructions; usually you only need to hang a specially designed collector, in the lowest floor of the property you own.
It needs to be put in a room that is used regularly; living room, playroom, den or bedroom, but not a kitchen or bathroom. The kit is placed 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, for a few days.
Be sure to close your windows and exterior doors, at least 12 hours before beginning the test, and keep them closed as much as practical throughout the test. Heating and air-conditioning system fans which re-circulate air may be operated, but you cannot run fans or other machines which bring in air from outside.
Testing during severe storms or periods of unusually high winds will not give accurate results, so pick a period of time where the weather will be average. Leave the kit in place for as long as the package says.
Then, using the packaging supplied by the Radon testing kit company you send the collector off to their laboratories for the air sample it collected to be analyzed.
The lab will then send you a full report on what they found and a recommended course of action. Radon levels in the air can vary tremendously, even in one location. So it might be that you consider trying a longer term Radon testing kit, which can be used to give you a highly accurate daily average level of radon over a full year. This would be particularly helpful if an initial, short-term, Radon test was inconclusive.
Why Test Your Indoor Air for Radon?
There is, of course, nothing to stop you testing the air outside for levels of Radon. Indeed some people who have bought, or are thinking of buying, a plot of land to build on – use an outdoor Radon test kit before proceeding. However, for some people living in an area of higher than normal levels of Radon outdoors might be unavoidable.
But, that’s not to say you can’t protect yourself whilst indoors. Being formed from Radium, Radon is a heavy gas; as such it has a tendency to accumulate on the floor of buildings – and is thus said to be a cumulative threat.
If, by using a Radon testing kit, you become aware of raised levels of Radon in your home taking some simple steps, like increasing the insulation of it and renewing/replacing door and window seals, can significantly lower the threat from Radon.
Other things to do to reduce Radon in your home include improving the foundations and general external fabric of the building and installing specialized Radon reduction systems like a Radon vent pipe. Lowering higher radon levels needs technical knowledge and special skills. Use a contractor trained to fix radon problems. A qualified contractor can study the radon problem in your home and help you pick the right treatment method.
You can contact private radon proficiency programs for lists of privately certified radon professionals in your area. For information on private radon proficiency programs, visit www.epa.gov/radon/radontest.html 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.