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The Silent Killer: How to know if your home is in danger

Date Published: 02/20/2020 [Source]

Whether you are in the habit of locking your front door or putting the security bar down to keep intruders out; there is one dangerous home invader, experts say, these safety measures can not protect you against.

Radon, an odorless, tasteless, invisible, and radioactive gas forms naturally when uranium metals break down in the soil and can enter into houses through the basements and crawl spaces.

According to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) 1 in 15 homes show traces of the gas known as "a silent killer."

"We can't talk about radon without talking about lung cancer because radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer," said Carrie Nyssen, a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association.

The American Lung Association estimates that 21,000 lung cancer deaths nationwide are related to this radioactive killer, annually. According to OHA, the gas accounts for nearly 300 deaths in Oregon each year.

So the question is, how do you know if your home is at risk?

"I would encourage people to look at our map of radon risks in Oregon and what you'll see there is the info of the areas where we do have information about radon, you'll also notice that there are areas where we have very little information" Curtis Cude, Radon Awareness Program Manager at OHA, explained noting that "for people that are in those areas (with no data), we do offer free radon test kits by contacting us."

Currently, the highest risk for radon is in Clatskanie, Columbia City, Dundee, Scappoose, Banks, and North Plains, as well as Boring, Parkdale, Milton-Freewater and La Grande, which are particularly in the north and northeastern parts of Portland.

However, in southern Oregon, the data pointed to moderate radon risk in the central and southwestern areas of Jackson County, including both Medford and Ashland. While other areas such as Phoenix and White City offered no data which qualifies local residents for free testing kits according to the OHA.

The OHA suggests hiring a qualified radon specialist to mitigate your home if it tests at high levels.

"The 1st step in mitigation is a depressurization system where we put in a fan system that draws air from the house, gathers it, and discharges it up above the house and into the atmosphere. There's no way to actually get rid of it, but what we want to do is prevent it from collecting in the home. So we just draw it out" says Joe Peck a service manager for Terra Firma Mitigation.

When testing for radon, Peck said it is important to note that "levels of radon fluctuate naturally depending on the weather, humidity, the temperature, barometric pressure..all of those things affect it."

He pointed out that the highest levels of radon typically occur during the winter months due to frozen soil and closed windows and doors.

According to OHA, while homes are the number one source of radon exposure, schools come in second.

After Griffin Creek Elementary school in Medford tested high in 2018, Medford School District's Director of Facilities Ron Havniear, said they took the threat to students seriously.

Havniear explained that some of the school's classrooms tested higher than 4 picoCuries per liter of air which is the level at which experts recommend taking action.

"We had 5 classrooms here that consistently stayed at 4 or a little bit above that so those classrooms that were elevated were between 4 and a high of around 7," Havniear said.

After these findings, The Medford School District not only took immediate action to mitigate the building but facilities director Ron Havniear decided to turn a stressful situation for many students into a hands-on lesson that far exceeded their textbook definition.

While many of us have surpassed the age of a grade school education, there is something we can all learn about this deadly gas.

Peck explained that the dangers of radon have been overlooked for quite some time.

"It originally started in the 1940s when they were mining uranium for atomic bombs and they were having trouble with miners getting sick," he explained noting that although tests ultimately revealed that radon was the cause of the worker's illness it was believed that radon was only a danger to miners.

"Then in the 80s, when people were still getting sick even after the push to stop second-hand smoke, that's when it was realized that is was coming from radon gas," Peck said.

With continued awareness, experts say they hope that Oregonians will begin to take the steps to test and mitigate their homes if needed so they can breathe a little easier.

"I encourage everybody to test in schools or homes, and I think community-wide, we can be safer," says Havniear.