Radon in your Home
Do you Know the Dangers?
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Are you aware that a killer may be hiding in your home? Radon is a harmful radioactive gas that you can't see, smell or taste. But, when you breathe air containing radon you increase your chances of getting cancer. The Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today, killing an estimated 14,000 people each year. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths . If you smoke and your home has high radon levels , your risk of lung cancer is especially high.
Radon has been found all over the U.S., including New Mexico. It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil rock and water and gets into the air you breathe. Radon typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Sometimes radon enters a home through well water.
Any home can have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with and without basements. Nearly 1 out of 15 homes in the US is estimated to have elevated radon levels. In New Mexico, the north central part of the state including Bernalillo and Santa Fe Counties are considered high risk areas. Up to 30% of homes tested in Albuquerque and 40% in Santa Fe have shown radon levels which exceed the EPA recommended norms.


Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. Do not rely on radon test results taken in other homes in the neighborhood to estimate the radon levels in your home. Homes which are next to each other can have different indoor radon levels. If you find you have high radon levels there are ways to fix the problem. Even very high levels can be reduced to acceptable levels. Testing is easy and should only take a few minutes of your time.
The amount of radon in the air is measured in "picocuries per liter of air," or "pCi/L." Sometimes test results are expressed in Working Levels (WL). There are many kinds of low cost "do it yourself" radon test kits you can get through the mail and in hardware stores and and other retail outlets. Make sure you buy a test kit that is EPA approved. The City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County Environmental Health Departments also sell test kits. If you prefer, or if you are buying or selling a home, you can hire a EPA certified contractor to do the testing for you.
There are two general ways to test for radon:
Short Term Testing is the quickest way to test. Short-term tests remain in your home for two to 90 days, depending on the device. Charcoal canisters, alpha track , electret ion chamber, continuous monitors,and charcoal liquid scintillation detectors are most commonly used for short-term testing. Because radon levels tend to vary from day to day and season to season, a short-term test will not generally tell you your year round average radon level.
Long Term Testing requires tests to remain in your home for more than 90 days. Alpha track and electret detectors are commonly used for this type of testing. A long-term test will give you a reading that is more likely to tell you your home's year round average radon level than a short term test.
For accurate results, follow the instructions that come with your test kit. If you are doing a short-term test, close the windows and outside doors and keep them closed as much as possible during the test and at least 12 hours before beginning the test. You should not conduct short-term tests lasting just 2 or 3 days during unusually severe storms or periods of high winds. The test kit should be placed in the lowest level of the home. It should be put in a room that is used regularly (like a living room, playroom, den, or bedroom) but not your kitchen or bathroom. Place the kit at least 20 inches above the floor in a location where it won't be disturbed - away from drafts, high heat, high humidity, and exterior walls. Leave the kit in place for as long as the package says. Once you've finished the test , reseal the package and send it to the lab specified right away for study. You should receive your test results within a few weeks.
The EPA recommends the following testing process: Step 1. Take a short-term test. If your result is 4 PCi/L or higher, follow up with a second short-term test or a long-term test. Step 2. If you followed up with a long-term test; fix your home if your long-term test is 4 pCi/L or more. If you followed up with a second short-term test ; consider fixing your home if the average of your first and second test is 4 pCi/L or higher.


Since there is no safe level of radon, there can always be some risk. But the risk can be reduced by lowering the level of radon in your home. A variety of methods are used to reduce radon levels. In some cases, sealing cracks in floors and walls may help. In other cases, simple systems using pipes and fans may be used to reduce radon. Such systems are called "sub-slab depressurization," and do not require major changes to your home. These systems remove radon gas from below the concrete slab before it can enter your home. Similar systems can also be installed in houses with crawl spaces. Radon contractors may use other methods depending on the design of your home.
If you are planning any major structural renovation it is especially important to test the area for radon before you begin the renovation. If your test results indicate a radon problem, radon resistant techniques can be inexpensively included as part of the renovation. Because major renovations can change the level of radon in any home, always test again after the work is completed. If you are constructing a new home, radon resistant features can be included a a lower cost than retrofitting an existing home. Even if high radon levels are found after occupancy, passive systems can be easily activated by installing a fan.
The cost of making repairs to reduce radon depends on how your home was built and the extent of the radon problem. Most homes can be fixed for about the same cost as other common home repairs like painting or having a new hot water heater installed. The average house costs about $1200 for a contractor to fix, although this can range from about $500 to about $2500.
The EPA recommends that you have a qualified contractor fix your home because lowering radon levels requires specific technical knowledge and special skills. Without the proper equipment or technical knowledge, you could actually increase your radon level or create other potential hazards. You should use a contractor who is trained to fix radon problems. The EPA Radon Contractor Proficiency (RCP) Program tests these contractors. A contractor who has passed the EPA test will carry a special RCP identification card. Picking someone to fix your radon problem is much like choosing a contractor for other home repairs-you may want to get references and more than one estimate. If you decide to do the work yourself, get information on appropriate training courses and copies of EPA's technical guidance documents.
In any case, you should test you home again after it is fixed to be sure that radon levels have been reduced. In addition, it's a good idea to retest your home sometime in the future to be sure radon levels remain low.

Information in this article was provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Health and Human Services


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