My odyssey began when I was told I had incurable lung cancer. After a lifetime of eating healthful food, drinking pure water and living an active life, this came as quite a shock! Naturally I wanted to know what caused my illness and my search lead me to discover our home was filled with radon—a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas. Indeed I have found that our entire valley has very high levels of radon and, perhaps coincidentally, a very high incidence of cancer. I want to share what I have learned so people can take steps to protect themselves and their families.
Older homes with basements are most likely to have a radon problem. Radon is heavier than air so it has a tendency to collect in the lowest level of a house, but because it is a gas it can be pulled to higher levels through variations in temperature and air pressure (ventilation). Radon gas present in the soil can enter a house right through the concrete basement floor, through cracks in the concrete floor or walls or through drains and sump pumps. Generally contractors building new homes are aware of the possibility of radon infiltration and they put down an impermeable barrier between the basement floor and the soil or they vent the radon with suction. Homes without a basement usually have enough air circulation under the floor to dissipate the gas and prevent the problem.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways one can correct a radon problem and these are explained and illustrated on numerous web sites (www.radonsense.com) that also offer in-depth explanations of how radon affects the human body. Many of these sites also offer supplies for radon mitigation if you find your home has unacceptable levels. “Acceptable” isn’t really safe, there is no safe level of radon exposure, it is just a number bureaucrats have decided on based on the estimated costs of correcting the problem in all affected homes.
In the US there is greater public awareness of the health risks associated with radon (between 20,000 and 22,000 people die annually from radon induced lung cancer) and realtors there are required to perform a radon test before a home can be sold. Radon levels are included in the home sale disclosure statement. Radon is a big problem but it is one that can be corrected if people will test their homes and if necessary take steps to eradicate the problem.
Radon test kits come in short-term, long-term and continuous monitoring models.
The short-term test takes 48 hours of monitoring, then the kit is sent away to a lab for evaluation. Results are returned within a few weeks.
The long-term test gives a more accurate picture because the monitoring time is 90 days after which it is sent away to the lab for analysis, so results don’t appear for at least four months.
These tests cost about $15 and can be purchased at Home Hardware or WalMart. The continuous monitoring model costs $130 (US) and can be purchased online. It is called Safety Siren by ProSeries.
Because one’s home is supposed to be a safe haven and because our senses cannot detect radon, it is easy to ignore this insidious threat, but I urge you to test your home—your life or the life of a loved one may depend on it.