Radon is a radioactive gas, which cannot be seen or tasted. However, radon exposure is linked to serious health problems, like cancer. Here is a brief overview about radon testing.
What is Radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas that is formed by the disintegration of radium and uranium, present in soil, water, and rocks. It is highly radioactive, and is the heaviest gas. Though highly dense, radon remains in gaseous form in normal conditions. This gas, which lacks color, smell, and taste; is considered a carcinogen. Radon gas, which is freely found in the atmosphere, gets accumulated in basements and foundations. It enters the interiors of buildings through cracks and holes. Sometimes, water in wells are also contaminated by this gas. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this gas is present all over the country, and one in every 15 homes has high levels of radon.
Every time you breathe air mixed with radon, the radioactive particles in this gas accumulate in the lungs. These particles break down in the lungs, emitting radiation in the process, which in turn destroys the lung tissues. Hence, long-term exposure to radon gas can lead to lung cancer. Earlier, it was believed that, smokers were at a greater risk of developing lung cancer from radon gas exposure; but now it has been proved that even non-smokers are at the same risk. However, smoking combined with a long-term exposure to radon can be a killer combination. In fact, now it has been acknowledged that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.
The amount of radon gas varies from one location to another, but it is very important to test its level in your house; as it is the only way to find out the presence of this radioactive gas in your place. According to experts, houses below the fourth floor must be tested for radon, to avoid health hazards. Even though there is no ‘safe level’ of radon gas, according to the EPA; an indoor level above the range of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) is considered risky. It is always better to lower the radon levels below 2 pCi/L.
You may use radon test kits for checking the level of radon in your house. These ready-made kits can check the level of radon gas in both water and air. If you opt for short-term radon tests, then perform two such tests to get a fair idea regarding the radon levels in your house. You can also compare the result with that of a long term radon test kit. You may also take the annual average of the radon levels measured in your home. Even professionals, who offer radon mitigation and testing services, can be hired to test the radon levels at your place, but such services will cost you more than the kits.
Radon Test Kits
These kits are easily available in home supply stores and hardware shops. You can also approach the local health authorities, who supply these kits at subsidized rates in some places. As far as radon gas test kits are concerned, there are two types – short-term and long-term. Short-term kits are not meant for measuring the annual average, but they are used for three to seven days.
Long-term radon gas test kits provide more accurate results, as the minimum period of use is 90 days. It is always better to use it yearlong, for accurate results. If yearlong testing is not feasible, you may conduct the test during summers and winters. It is also recommended that the lowest place of your house, preferably the basement, is the best place to conduct the test. If the basement is not regularly used, then it can be done in any other room; other than the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, or hallway.
The two basic types of radon gas test kits are called passive and active. The former does not need electricity to work, as it includes charcoal canisters, alpha-track detectors, and charcoal liquid scintillation devices that are exposed to the air in your home for a specified period. Later, these are sent to the laboratory for testing. In case of active radon testing kits, which require power to work; radon levels are recorded continuously. These devices include monitors, which display the radon levels every hour; and are considered more reliable than the passive ones. However, these devices are generally used by home inspectors and air quality professionals.
Short-term radon testing should not be done during high humidity, high winds, and severe storms. In case, the testing period is less than four days, then keep the doors and windows of the room shut for the previous three days. Seal the room, even if it’s a long-term test, except for normal entry and exit. The device should be kept at least 20 inches above the floor to prevent the effect of humidity.
It is always better to follow the instructions of the manufacturer. If the radon level detected by the device is above the accepted standards, you can fix the problem with radon reduction systems. There are radon reduction construction techniques can be installed during construction of new buildings. This can also help in reducing the level of radon to a large extent.