Thursday, September 29, 2011

Be-Gone Radon

Imagine Fenway Park in October. Playoff time. Packed to the gills, 37,000 fans. Now, for a moment, imagine yourself standing at homeplate staring back at those 37,000 faces. 37,000 different walks of life inextricably tied together, united as one. Now, imagine that in two years every single one of those people will have died, inextricably tied to the hands of fate. At the same time hope--pray, even-- that you, yourself, will not have succumbed to the very radioactive poison which has taken these lives.

Yes people, radon kills, and it kills tremendously. It takes the lives of roughly 21,000 people a year and does so by surreptitious intrusion. Radon, an odorless, tasteless, colorless, and radioactive element, found predominantly in soil, rock, and water, manifests largely in the basements of new and old homes alike. Similar to carbon monoxide, radon is both undetectable and equally fatal. 

Regina McCarthy, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Assistant Administrator of Air and Radiation, informs us that “radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer next to smoking in the United States.” McCarthy, University of Massachusetts Boston alumna, was appointed to the post by President Obama in 2009. She urges those buying homes, as well as those that already own, to check for radon. “Many people, simply, just don’t know about the threat and so, therefore, never address it. It’s very simple and cost effective to test for, and it literally can save your life.” 

So who knows about radon? Let’s check it out. Survey data compiled by the National Lung Cancer Partnership in 2011, shows that 88% of Americans are unaware that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Deductive reasoning, therefore, tells us that people are slowly dying in the luxury of their own homes due to a paucity of awareness. A much smaller survey, conducted solely for the benefit of this article, targeted fifty people: a mixed bag of homeowners, landlords, and tenants. The results were mind numbing. 90% of the people polled had never even heard of Radon. In fact, many even confused it with the insecticide Raid. If you are among this overwhelming, ill-informed majority: fear but do not irrationalize. McCarthy tells us while the threat of lung cancer is imminent, “it is not something that happens overnight.” McCarthy encourages solution.

A simple, cost-effective remedy is to test levels in your home by purchasing a radon test-kit. The National Radon Program Services, at Kansas State University, offer both short-term and long-term kits ranging from as little as $15 to as much as $25. These kits can be purchased online at www.sosrad.org and any information regarding radon can be learned by contacting the National Radon Program hotline at (800) 767-7236. Test-kits can also be found at department stores such as Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Ace Hardware.

When using a radon test-kit, the EPA recommends following these easy steps:

1) The test-kit should be placed in the lowest lived-in level of the home (for example, the basement if it is frequently used, otherwise the first floor).

2) It should be put in a room that is used regularly.

3) Place the kit at least twenty inches above the floor in a location where it won’t be disturbed (away from drafts, high heat, high humidity, and exterior walls). Leave the kit in place for as long as package says.

4) Once you’ve finished the test, reseal the package and send it to the lab specified on package right away for analysis. You should receive your test results within a few weeks.

A more detailed tutorial on how to operate these test-kits can be found at “A Citizen’s Guide to Radon” located on the EPA’s website: www.epa.gov. 

If the results of the test reflect a level equal to, or higher than, 4 picocuries per liter, the EPA recommends fixing your home. This can be done by installing a radon mitigation system through the services of a Radon Mitigation Contractor. These systems work by recycling radon out of the basement and into the outdoor atmosphere, a process known as “soil suction”. Mitigation system expenditures will vary on the climate you live in, the kind of reduction system you select, and how your home is built.

Andrew Kepple, of Medway, recently bought a house in which levels of radon were through the roof. He advises those buying houses to make sure the seller includes any testing and subsequent mitigation systems (if necessary) within the inspection of the home. In terms of the machine itself, Kepple says “It’s quiet, energy efficient, and not intrusive.” For those of you living as tenants, recall a time, if ever, your landlord tested for radon. Be inexorably firm in your stance to negotiate a radon test before signing a lease. 

Word of mouth, alone, is not sufficient enough to eliminate the threat radon poses. McCarthy and the EPA have teamed up with other federal agencies, including Departments of Health and Human Services, Energy, and the Housing and Urban Development, in order to “focus efforts on radon reduction and mitigation in homes, schools, and daycare facilities, as well as radon-resistant construction.” The Federal Action Plan, McCarthy’s brainchild, came into effect earlier this year. According to Lisa Jackson, the EPA’s Administrator, the plan seeks to address “radon-risk reduction, financial and incentive issues to drive testing and mitigation, and build demand for services from industry professionals.” Through this program, EPA estimates that 7.5 million homes, schools, and daycare facilities will be affected. As McCarthy tells us, “it’s all about awareness and this is a step in the right direction.”

So, what can you do to follow McCarthy’s lead and help heighten radon awareness? Talk about it. Be the voice. Everyday tell five people and make sure they tell another five. Make it a cultural movement. Through this awareness, we can proactively reduce radon exposure and eliminate it as a lethal threat. It starts today. Be-gone radon.


For any information regarding radon, radon test-kits and mitigation systems, please visit www.epa.gov

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