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Every day we are exposed to radiation. Sunburn is a type of radiation burn resulting from too much UV light. While sunburn may be the type of radiation exposure we normally think of, the largest source of harmful radiation comes from breathing in radioactive gas. This gas, called radon, has no taste or smell, and it’s not visible. Radon can’t be prevented, but you have the option to limit your exposure. Over a lifetime, reducing your amount of radiation exposure can help reduce your chances of getting cancer.
The number one source of radiation in the air is radon. No matter where you go there will be some radon present. Typically, there is 0.4 pCi of radon per liter of air. Inside of a closed home it is possible for the radon concentrations to grow significantly higher. This occurs mainly because basements and crawlspaces tend to have a slightly negative air pressure compared to the outside air. This negative air pressure causes air in the ground around your house, which contains elevated levels radon gas, to be drawn into the lower pressured basement or crawlspace.
Many people spend most of their time at home on the first or second floor. The levels on the first floor are often half the levels seen in basements. The first floor of your house can have negative air pressure compared to the outside. This causes the first floor to pull air from the outside through windows, doors, and other holes instead of the ground. The second floor, counterintuitively, can sometimes be higher than the first floor. The upper floor of a house gets its air from the first floor and sometimes basements.
So, when we test for radon we test in the basement (if it’s habitable) because it has the highest levels in the house. The basement is also the best place to test because it has the most stable air due to a lack of doors and windows. The EPA recommends keeping radon levels under 4.0 pCi per liter of air. Put another way, the radon concentration in a house can be nearly 10x higher than the outside air and be acceptable under EPA guidelines. At 4 pCi/l the EPA recommends mitigation.
If we know the radon level in our homes, how do we know if we will get cancer? The EPA has studied the effects of radon on the human body and estimated the number of resulting cancers. I say estimated because it’s just that, an estimate. Cancer is caused by a whole slew of things and determining exactly what caused cancer in a specific person is rather difficult. It’s even more difficult to do it on a national level so they estimate instead.
'Estimate' means it could be wrong? Not really. Originally, the EPA estimates were based models from studies on the cancer rates among underground minors. Questions as to whether or not industrial exposure to radon can be used to determine residential risks led to more recent residential studies. The estimates of lung cancer rates below have been backed up by case studies of real lung cancers correlated to actual radon levels in homes for specific people. In these studies patients were biopsied and had their houses tested for radon levels. Thousands of people in North America and Europe were studied.
It is estimated that around 21,000 cases of lung cancer occur because of radon. The low end estimates are 8,000 cases of lung cancer per year attributable to radon. High end estimates are 45,000 cases of lung cancer due to radon. If you get lung cancer you only have a 15% chance of still being alive after 5 years. If you smoke, radon is especially harmful. Radon and smoking are a one-two punch to your lung tissue.
If you don't smoke....
And if you do smoke...
Radon levels can vary from house to house because of geography and how the house is built. Around our area, Castalia down to Monroeville and Bellevue, and south of Norwalk tend to have high levels. Berlin Heights also has high levels. 48% of homes in Erie County have radon levels above 4.0 pCi. 55% of homes in Huron County are above 4.0 pCi*. Below is a map of the local area based on ZIP codes .
Green means the average is below 4.0 pCi
Yellow is 4.0-5.9 pCi.
Orang is 6.0-9.9 pCi
Red is >10 pCi
So how can you find out if you have high levels of radon? You have three basic options. First, some county health departments offer free radon testing kits. All you have to pay for is the shipping to the laboratory for analysis. Second, you can buy a test kit from Lowes, Home Depot, or Menards for under $20 plus shipping to the laboratory. Third, you can hire a professional, like Ridgeline Home Inspections, to conduct a radon test. Professional radon testing is a little more accurate because we have been trained to conduct tests for the best accuracy.
Reducing high levels of radon in your home is usually a simple process. You, or a professional radon mitigation company, can install a radon mitigation system. These systems operate by reducing the soil air pressure around your foundation. When the soil air pressure is reduced, your basement draws less of its air from the radon laden ground.
Radon is one of the highest risks for cancer that can easily be reduced. If you live in a high radon area and you spend a significant amount of time in your basement (such as a basement bedroom or play room) you should definitely have your radon levels tested. While mitigation by a professional can cost between $1000 and $1500, it is money well spent for people in high risk situations.
*Information from The University of Toledo 'Radon Information System' available at http://www.eng.utoledo.edu/aprg/radon/