As part of National Radon Action Month this past January, the Western U.P. Health Department distributed numerous radon test kits from its four offices. Many people were eager to find out the level of radon in their homes. Now that test results have likely been returned, if your home tested high for radon, it is vital to take the next step.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended radon action level is 4 pCi/L; however, it is important to know that no amount of radon is safe. If your test result was between 2 and 4 pCi/L, consider retesting. The short-term radon test you took in your home was a snapshot of the radon levels and may vary daily depending on weather conditions and factors such as whether people were frequently entering and leaving your home during the days tested. Test results above the action level are not uncommon in the Western Upper Peninsula. Luckily, radon mitigation is rather simple and inexpensive, especially if you consider the high payoff for your health and the health of your family.
The typical renovation for a home with elevated radon involves sealing cracks and openings in the foundation and installing a couple of "suction points." These suction points are sealed-off openings in the foundation connected with 4-inch PVC pipe which draws gases from under the house and safely pipes it out the roof to the atmosphere. The installation relies on the stack effect by moving the radon-concentrated air in the soil to a lower pressure area (the installed suction points) and out of the house. The principle is similar to how a chimney works. A fan is typically installed toward the top of the PVC pipe in the garage or attic to further increase the pressure difference and reduce the level of radon.
Mitigation costs are dependent on variables such as the construction of the house and the condition of the foundation; however, costs could vary from $800 to $2,500. If your radon test kit detected elevated radon in your home, there are local contractors who are certified and familiar with radon-resistant construction techniques. These contractors have specific technical knowledge and the proper equipment required to lower the level of radon in your home. If you decide to do the work yourself, first obtain appropriate training and technical guidance. (Guidance is available online and at the health department.) A post-mitigation radon test should be done within 30 days of system installation.
While fixing a home with radon is easily attainable, building a radon-resistant home is even easier and is often more aesthetically pleasing. The methods are essentially the same; however, a radon-resistant new building will have a gravel or stone layer under the foundation to collect air, as well as plastic sheeting or a vapor retarder directly under the foundation.
Don't ignore the results of your radon test kit. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in individuals who have never smoked and the second leading cause of lung cancer in smokers. For your health and the health of your family, radon exposure in the home should not be overlooked.
Additional information on radon mitigation measures and radon resistant new construction is available from the Western U.P. Health Department during normal business hours of Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Health Department can be reached by phone at 906-482-7382.
Editor's note: Rachael Smith is an Environmental Health Sanitarian with the Western U.P. Health Department.