Q. I keep hearing about radon gas…

Q. Hey Mark,

I keep hearing about radon gas, but I don’t understand what it is. Is it something I really need to worry about?

Thanks!

Beth V.

A. Beth,

That is an excellent question. One that I wish more people were asking.

“Is it [radon gas] really something I need to worry about?”

Actually, I am not sure the word “worry” is the word I would choose. I think “concern” works better. You see, radon gas is a naturally occurring gas that is created by the breakdown of uranium within the Earths crust. Uranium is actually a common element and is found all over the world. Therefore, radon gas is found all over. Unfortunately, prolonged exposure to radon gas, especially in higher concentrations has been found to cause cancer, specifically lung cancer.

The EPA says that Radon gas is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, and the number two cause in smokers. In addition, for smokers the lung cancer risk is multiplied with high levels of radon. Therefore, the EPA recommends that every house that is being purchased be tested for radon. They also recommend that your home be tested every other year, because radon levels do occasionally fluctuate. Therefore, it is definitely a risk and is something folks should be concerned about.

However, it is also not something that you should develop an “I can’t sleep at night” fear of either. Like I said, it is naturally occurring. As you read this, you are being exposed to it right now. While there is no known “safe” level of radon, the problem primarily lies in situations where the gas accumulates in your homes and you are exposed to elevated levels for extended periods of time.

When you have your home tested, you will receive from the lab or your testing professional a number that indicates the Radon level. That number will be in Picocuries per Liter. For the layperson, suffice it to say, that the higher the number the greater the risk of developing lung cancer sometime in your lifetime. For example, the EPA recommends that if your home tests between 2 and 4 pC/L (Picocuries per Liter), you should consider having your home mitigated. If it is higher than 4 pC/L the EPA says you should definitely get your home fixed. Less than 2 then just re-test again in a couple of years.

The EPA estimates that for a non-smoker who lives in a home that has tested at 4 pC/L, your risk of developing lung cancer in your lifetime is about the same risk as you dying in a car accident. So, is that a real risk/concern? Sure it is. However, it is not what most people would consider an “unreasonable” risk/concern. After all, we do live in a dangerous world. So, the decision to actually fix a home with levels less that 4 pC/L is one that is based on personal risk assessment.

For more information about Radon and what the EPA has to say about it, visit the EPA’s website at http://www.epa.gov/radon/.

Mark Nahrgang is the owner of Kingdom Inspection Network Group – St. Louis and is a professional NACHI certified building inspector in the St. Louis metro area. Mark performs home inspections as well as commercial inspections throughout St. Louis and St. Charles County.

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