Radon – What is it and Why should you care?
So what exactly is Radon, and why is it so scary?
Well, to start, it’s a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that’s formed naturally from the break down of other radioactive elements. These radioactive elements, like Uranium and Thorium, are found in varying amounts in the soils and rocks all over the world. They’re totally natural, and for the most part exist in such low levels that they are harmless. As naturally occurring as they are outdoors, they’re also found indoors, and typically at higher levels than outdoors. When Radon breaks down, it can become attached to dust particles, making it easier to breathe in. Once it’s inside of your body, it’s continued radioactive depletion can cause DNA damage, and with most things, excessive exposure can and does cause problems. Radon is the number 1 cause of lung cancer in non-smokers in the country, and can be a serious hazard.
So how do you get exposed to it? Thousands of years ago, a massive flood originating from glaciers near Missoula MT pushed tons and tons of water and sediment from the north and deposited them along the Columbia River Gorge. Thanks to this, Vancouver and other parts of SW Washington have high levels of naturally occurring radon. Since radon is a gas, it tends to find its way into our homes through small cracks in the foundation, near holes where plumbing or electrical conduit travels through the foundation into the earth, or simply through the exposed soils/rocks that we see in crawl spaces. Because of this, Radon levels tend to be the highest in basements or the lowest levels of the home – wherever is closest to the earth. The more time you spend in your basement or on the lowest floor of a house with elevated levels of Radon, the more likely you are to be exposed. Radon can also enter the home through certain building materials created with radon containing earth, like drywall, concrete, and concrete masonry units. These tend to have much lower levels of radon emissions, but can still be a source for some radioactive gas.
If it’s so bad, how could anyone possibly live with it? The EPA suggests that 4pCi/L is the level where you need to deal with radon gas, as it tends to average around 0.4pCi/L in the atmosphere, and around 1.0 in the average home. Unfortunately, in the Vancouver Washington area, 1 in 4 homes have elevated radon levels. Thankfully, radon gas is pretty easy to mitigate and can be done relatively inexpensively as well. Mitigation typically consists of a hole drilled into your foundation where a negative pressure system is place – basically a big piece of PVC pipe and a fan that can suck air from beneath the foundation, into the tube, and out through an exhaust outside of the home. The US average cost of these systems is between $1000-2000 and they can typically be installed in a day. Take a peek at the EPA’s interactive radon map and see if your house is in an elevated area.
That’s great news for everyone, and now that you know a little more about this radioactive gas, the better you can protect yourself and your family from its dangers. And as always, we here at MACH Inspections are happy to offer radon testing to our inspection clients from Longview to Vancouver, because we want you and your family to move into your new home and be happy and healthy.