Column: How much radon is too much?

We are considering a move to Prescott from Nebraska where radon levels are high. Are there safe levels of radon in Prescott? Maria and Ted - Cass County, Nebraska.

A: Safe and acceptable levels of radon are two different answers. A safe level of radon would be no radon at all. Radon is an invisible, radioactive gas created from natural deposits of uranium and radium in the soil. Radon gas can seep in a building or home and accumulate to concentrations that can increase the potential of lung cancer. According to the EPA, "any radon exposure has some risk of causing lung cancer. The lower the radon levels in your home, the lower the risk of lung cancer." Radon cannot be detected by our senses and you cannot see, smell or taste radon.

The Radon Act 51, passed by Congress, set the natural outdoor level of radon gas (0.4pCi/L) as the target radon level for indoor radon levels. Unfortunately, two-thirds of all homes nationally exceeded this level. The US EPA set an action level of 4 pCi/L. At or above this level of radon, the EPA recommends that you take corrective measures to reduce your exposure to radon gas.

Radon enters a building or home through the foundation, basement, crawlspace or slab floor. As the radon rises inside, it is diluted with air that leaks through walls, windows and other openings and therefore, radon levels are typically highest in the lowest portion of the home.

There are no average radon levels for a specific city, state or region and it does not matter if your neighbor's home was tested and was high or low, because results for your home may be completely different. Radon generally moves a distance of only 20 to 30 feet through the soil to a building and soils can vary from building to building even within the same neighborhood.

There are two basic types of radon gas testing devices: hiring a professional to perform the test or an inexpensive DIY test kit available through hardware stores. If you are radon testing to evaluate potential risk, a home test kit will do the job. The instructions for performing the test must be followed carefully.

While no level of radon gas is completely safe, as with most things in life, we must balance the benefits and costs to determine an acceptable level of exposure. When we drive every day, we are subjecting ourselves to a potential accident; when we walk or go outside, we are exposing ourselves to ultraviolet light and increasing our risk of skin cancer. People smoke, eat poorly and engage in activities that are dangerous. Radon is one of those risks that we all take. We can choose how we drive, what we eat and whether we smoke, but breathing air in our home is something we have no choice over, so there are some basic steps to take when buying or building a home - or for that matter, testing your current home.

Check our area's radon potential. The EPA has a map of radon zones, which have the greatest potential for elevated radon, and this is by county.

You can install a radon reduction system in a new home and there are standards that are available on the EPA website, www.epa.gov. These radon reduction systems can reduce radon levels up to 99 percent.

Test your home

If a short-term radon test is conducted correctly for a minimum of two days, under closed-house conditions, one can reasonably say that if the result is less than 4.0 pCi/L, the annual average of the home under normal lived-in conditions is also likely to be less than 4.0 pCi/L. If the level is at or above 4.0 pCi/L, the house has the potential to average more than 4.0 pCi/L, and you should consider follow-up testing or taking action to reduce (mitigate) the radon in the home.

There is no "totally safe" level of radon exposure. 4 picoCuries per liter is the "action level" recommended by the EPA. All radon problems can be fixed. Radon levels in homes can typically be reduced to between 2 - 4 picoCuries per liter.

Contact the Radiation Regulatory Agency in Phoenix for more information, www.arra.state.az.us. They have a very helpful FAQ section about radon.

Remember to tune in to YCCA's Hammer Time twice each weekend Saturday and Sunday morning 7 a.m. on KQNA 1130 AM/99.9 FM or the web kqna.com. Listen to Sandy and Mike talk about the construction industry and meet your local community partners and contractors.

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