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October 2011
Some nice green grass

Radon, A Primer
by April Line

Why test for radon?
The risks of radon are often misunderstood and accorded too little concern due to a lack of public awareness. There is a dearth of clear, easy-to-understand information about radon and its risks. Consequently, home buyers, enrapt in the process of house shopping, groan at the thought of one more test, especially when they underestimate the threat posed by elevated radon levels.

There is no law requiring radon testing, even when Realtors and home inspectors recommend it. According to the EPA, the Surgeon General, and a full battery of tests and studies conducted by scientists across the nation, radon exposure is responsible for the second-highest number of lung cancer cases annually, only after smoking.

Radon testing is readily available and can be performed in as few as two days. Certified home inspectors can easily test for radon during the pre-sale process. The State of Connecticut requires that when a home buyer elects to test for radon the test is administered by a certified analyst. In addition, many lenders and insurers also require a radon analysis to be performed by a licensed professional.

There are loads of references available on the web, some of these are listed at the end of this article. And not to worry, Simone Barrett of Barrett Realty Group in Madison, CT advises all of her clients to test, and says she’s “never had a deal fall through because of radon.”

What is the danger?
Radon is dangerous because it is invisible and odorless, but radioactive. It’s a gas that occurs naturally in soil when uranium particles break down. This breakdown releases radon into the soil which then enters homes through cracks in foundations and wafts upward.

Radon presence dissipates as air moves upward, so the higher stories in a home have a lower presence of radon.    

According to the EPA’s research, the average presence of radon in homes across the US is 1.3 picoCuries per liter of air (pCi/L).  The outdoor air has a reading of .4 pCi/L on average.

Homeowners or buyers who test at or above 4 pCi/L should administer a second test, and if the average results of the two tests are 4.1 pCi/L or higher, mitigation is essential.     

The risk of cancer related to radon exposure is based on calculations of the data about amounts of radon to which underground miners were exposed (around 400 pCi/L). People who smoke or who have ever smoked are at a particularly high risk from home radon exposure. 

What about testing and mitigation?
There are a number of options available for testing: passive and active, short term and long term. Passive tests are carbon canisters that are placed on the lowest living level of a home and must be returned to a lab for analysis. While perfectly acceptable by lenders and the State of Connecticut alike, charcoal canisters are not tamper-proof and do have a higher failure rate than active testing devices.

Active testing is done with an electronic monitor and is performed by a professional who is trained and certified to analyze radon data. Active testing is more accurate since it is a continuous monitor of radon levels and stores information, including inexplicable lows that could indicate tampering; while the charcoal canister only records the total radon level over the two-day timeframe, and has no means to detect tampering.  The EPA recommends re-testing every two years, but does not prescribe a type of testing over another. 

Short term tests take anywhere from two to ninety days, and long term tests take longer than ninety days.  It is most beneficial if a long term test can be administered for as near to 365 days as possible.  The advantage of a long-term test is that it provides information about average radon concentration over time.

Radon concentration varies with seasons and weather.  So before performing a test, be sure to limit air flow within the home for twelve hours prior to the beginning of the test.  With short term tests, avoid testing during periods of high wind. 

Mitigation, if necessary, should be installed by a licensed, certified contractor.  The EPA’s Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction outlines the types of radon reduction systems by foundation type. 

Some radon mitigation systems seek to reduce the amount of radon once it has already entered a home.  The EPA preferred and recommended method stops radon from entering the home by venting radon directly from the Earth into the atmosphere.

Regardless of the type of home, its foundation, and whether a radon mitigation system is in place; radon poses a real threat especially with prolonged exposure.  Consult the resources below to learn more.    

This picture is a line of clover


EPA Home Buyer's and Seller's Guide to Radon

KSU National Radon Program Services

EPA Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction (PDF)


Some nice green grass
Some nice green grass

From the Editor
Invisible Radon

Radon is invisible. Not only in the air but in the media and in the public consciousness. We field calls on a daily basis because people don't have the information they need to make an informed decision about radon testing.

This month we're featuring a newsletter focused on some basics about radon in the air. Next month we'll follow up with info about radon in water.

— Susan Rubinsky, Editor

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In This ISSUE:

Connecticut Radon Zones: What do they mean?
CT Radon Zones: What do they mean?

Active Testing Advantages
Active Testing Advantages

The Risks of Radon Exposure
The Risks of Radon Exposure

Coming Next Month

All you need to know about radon and water.

Some nice green grass
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