Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Invisible Threat? You Decide.

by Maggie Sefton

Two weeks ago I finally had radon gas mitigation done on my home. I live in Northern Colorado where radon gas is frequently found in the soil. The problem occurs when houses are built, then the radon gas escapes from the soil into the home. Since radon gas is invisible and has no smell, its presence goes unnoticed in the air around us. We breathe it in with the rest of the naturally occurring oxygen and nitrogen. We cannot detect its presence except by testing with special intruments which detect its presence.

The possible health effects of breathing radon gas over time are serious---developing lung cancer is the most important. I said "possible" because when you check the statistics, which I did, they show that a person who is exposed to the gas on a daily basis has a greater risk of developing lung cancer the longer they're exposed. However, the risk is never 100% of all people exposed. There are varying degrees on exposure and varying degrees of disease occurrence.

I'd known about the risks of radon gas exposure for years. And I knew about its prevalence in Northern Colorado. In fact, I'd seen several houses along my street that had the extra roof vent pipe which signalled they'd had radon mitigation done. I knew all that, but I hadn't had my home tested. I'd remember it periodically, tell myself that I really "should" have it tested, etc then promptly forget it. Why? Maybe because the statistics showed that varying degree of risk with exposure. Whatever the reason, I didn't have it tested.

Finally, my "inner guidance" (aka, my gut, instinct, whatever) gave me a stronger reminder to get my house tested. I did. And the test revealed that my house had twice the level recommended to be considered safe. Approximately 4.1 picocuries is the maximum "safe" level. My readings were 8.2 picocuries. I have a tri-level home with a crawl space, and that was where all the radon gas was escaping from the soil. So, I scheduled radon mitigation by the fully certified and knowledgeable specialists that had been recommended by others I trusted.

It took the two-man team six hours to properly install the system, which is not noticeable at all. The small fan is way up in the attic so I don't hear any noise except in the garage and it's a soft steady airy sound. First, they drill a hole in the crawl space below my house (where the radon was coming from, they said), drill into the earth then perpendicular in the ground beneath the lowest level (family room) concrete slab. There they install a pipe that draws any gas in the soil out and into the pipes they install in the crawl space ceiling which goes into the garage, up the garage wall, then into the attic where they install the exhaust fan, which vents everything outside into the air. Then they physically seal off the entire crawl space dirt with special fiber to prevent gas from escaping. So the fan can suck it out of the earth, into the pipes, and out through the roof. I thought the entire procedure was fascinating.

I know there's a difference of opinion about the risk of radon. But I always follow my instinct, my inner guildance. So, I decided "Better safe, than sorry," as my grandmother used to say. Another reason, more practical, is Colorado has now made radon testing mandatory when selling a home. I'm sure other states have done the same. Oh. . .and the follow-up testing showed that after taking readings for four full days, the radon gas level in my home dropped to 0.912.

How about your state? Do you have radon gas present?