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Sustainability tip: Why testing your home for radon is important

Date Published: 01/13/2020 [Source]

January is National Radon Action Month.

You can't see radon, and you can't smell it or taste it. But it's everywhere. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has classified radon gas as a cancer-causing, radioactive gas, produced by the natural breakdown of uranium. As uranium decays in soil, rock and water, it produces radon gas that moves up through the soil and into the atmosphere.

It has been found in all 50 states, and almost half the homes in Colorado have radon levels higher than the EPA's recommended level of 4 picocuries per liter. In 2003, the EPA conducted a risk assessment and found that radon causes an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the United States, making it the second-leading cause of lung cancer after smoking-related lung cancer deaths.

Buildings act as containers for radon gas as it seeps up through the soil, allowing it to concentrate at dangerous levels. Common entry points include spaces between basement walls and the slab, cracks in foundations and/or walls, openings around sump pumps and drains, construction joints and plumbing penetrations, crawl spaces and well water. Building age and type has no effect on radon concentrations, so even new construction projects can contain high levels of radon gas unless properly mitigated.

There are two types of do-it-yourself testing: short-term and long-term. Short-term radon tests are placed in the home for 48 to 96 hours and then mailed to a laboratory that analyzes the test. Once you have mailed in your test, the testing facility can usually send your results within three to five business days. Radon levels vary from season to season even from day to day, short-term tests are usually used as a baseline method. If your results are higher than the EPA's recommended level of 4 picocuries per liter, you should complete another short-term test or follow up with a long-term test. Long-term tests usually remain in the home for more than 90 days and produce results that better reflect the year-round concentration of radon gas in your home.