Today’s Ask the Expert column features Dan Steward, president of Pillar To Post Home Inspectors.
Q: As we make our way through National Radon Action Month, why is it so important for homeowners to take a proactive approach to radon testing?
A: The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared January National Radon Action Month. Occurring when we’re likely to spend most of our time indoors, January is the perfect time of year to consider the importance of a proactive approach to radon testing.
Like carbon monoxide, radon is tasteless, odorless, invisible and deadly. The radioactive gas that results from the breakdown of uranium in rock, soil or water, radon can enter the home in countless ways. Flaws in a home’s foundation, floor drains, construction joints and support posts are just a few of the many parts of a home through which radon gas can enter. Typically measured in Picocuries per liter (pCi/L) in the U.S. and Becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3) in Canada—(1 pCi/L = 37 Bq/m3)—radon is quite common at low levels in most environments, with an average outdoor level of 0.27 pCi/L (10 Bq/m3) and indoor level of 1.21 pCi/L (45 Bq/m3). The difference between the typical outdoor/indoor levels is explained by the buildup of radon that confined spaces allow.
Experts differ somewhat on the threshold limits of radon. The World Health Organization (WHO) determines 2.7 pCi/L (100 Bq/m3) to be the maximum level of radon allowed before action needs to be taken. The EPA, on the other hand, set its limit to 4.0 pCi/L (150 Bq/m3). And Health Canada says that 5.4 pCi/L (200 Bq/m3) is the level which, when breached, homeowners need to take corrective action.
Regardless of the specific level of radon exposure defined as acceptable, experts are of one mind on the adverse effects exposure to radon can have on the body. Radon can cause lung cancer, particularly if the individual also happens to be a smoker. In fact, according to the EPA, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers in the United States, claiming about 21,000 lives a year. Health Canada affirms this view, and in a 2009 study, found that around 7 percent of Canadian homes have levels of radon considered to be unsafe.
The EPA, the U.S. Surgeon General and Health Canada all recommend that homeowners carry out frequent radon tests in their homes, generally about once every two years, as radon levels can increase over time. Because of the detrimental health effects associated with exposure to heavy levels of radon, officials recommend new homeowners have their house tested prior to move-in. Moreover, those selling a home can benefit from having a radon test done before the property is sold. It’s also important to provide the results to the buyer in order to put their mind at ease.
Radon tests, such as those administered by inspectors at Pillar To Post, take about 2-3 days. Upon the conclusion of a radon test, results are provided to clients and interpreted. If a test indicates an unsafe level of radon in the home, homeowners are advised to consult a professional radon mitigation service, which can provide recommendations for how to best deal with the situation.
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