Radon is a radioactive gas that is slowly released during the natural decay or breakdown of uranium in the earth, and it moves freely though any soil, rock and water. Because it is the heaviest gas in nature, radon can easily accumulate in high levels in the basement or poorly ventilated areas of a house or building.
Why Is Radon Dangerous?
As radon decays, it further breaks down to form radioactive elements that can be inhaled into the lungs, where they can damage the cells that line the lung, causing lung cancer.
Health Canada reports that radon exposure is linked to 16 percent of lung cancer deaths and is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. In Nova Scotia, the Department of Natural Resources has developed an amazing radon risk map; you can enter your physical address and it will show whether you are in a low-, medium- or high-risk area. In the United States, you can find a radon zone map on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website.
How Much Radon Is Too Much?
In North America, radon test results have shown that 40 percent of buildings in high-risk areas exceed Health Canada and EPA guidelines; however, even homes in low-risk areas should be tested, as this is the only way to know how much radon is in your home.
In Canada, radon is measured in Becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3), and the current Canadian guideline for radon action is 200 Bq/m3. In the United States, radon is measured in picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L), and the current guideline for remediation is any level higher than 4 pCi/L. In both countries, the higher the number, the higher the risk. However, even the current action level is equivalent to the radiation exposure from 30 medical chest x-rays per year (assuming radon exposure at home for 12 hours per day).
Radon levels can vary over time and especially from season to season, which is why home owners should conduct radon testing over a duration of 91 days or longer to properly determine radon levels and better understand whether remedial action will be required.
For the average home owner, a simple do-it-yourself radon testing kit can be ordered online or purchased in a hardware or home improvement store.
Should You Test Your House for Radon?
When it comes to buying or selling a house, a long-term test is considered unrealistic, so a short-term test of lasting 48 to 72 hours should be performed. Make sure you hire a certified radon inspector who has been specifically trained to an industry-recognized standard of practice and are held accountable for working to established radon testing guidelines. Your home inspector may be a certified radon tester; if not, he/she can recommend a professional to conduct the test for you.
By Lawrence Englehart, GPI Franchise Owner, Halifax, Nova Scotia