What is Radon?
H&H Real Estate Consulting
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas, which has always been a part of our environment. It’s a natural decay product of uranium and is found in soil everywhere in varying concentrations.
Radon gas can accumulate in enclosed places, such as a house, but its presence, even in high concentrations, cannot be detected by human senses because the gas is invisible and has no odor.
Long term or chronic exposure to radon has been linked to lung cancer.
The greater the concentration and the longer a person is exposed, the greater the risk, so all people are encouraged to reduce their exposure.
However, because of its physical characteristics, the only way to detect the presence of radon gas and measure the level is by a test.
So people wanting to limit their exposure must first conduct a test to determine what their exposure levels are.
Radon can move easily through the soil and tiny cracks in the rock.
When it reaches the surface of the soil, it disperses and is diluted to very low levels in the outdoor environment. However, when the gas moves upward through the soil beneath a home, it may enter through cracks or other openings in the foundation and build up to unacceptable levels.
The higher the levels of radon gas in a home, the greater the amount inhaled. Just as radon is produced from the decay of radioactive materials, it further decays producing new radioactive materials in the form of solids.
These radon decay products can attach to other particles, such as dust and cigarette smoke, which can be inhaled and become trapped in the lungs where they emit radiation. These decay products can damage lung tissue and increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
The risk of lung cancer from a given exposure to radon is greater for a smoker than a non-smoker.
In Florida, one in five homes tested has radon levels above the EPA action level.
Elevated radon levels have been found in all types of Florida buildings, including manufactured homes, schools, and high-rise condominiums. In some areas of Florida, one out of two homes has excessive amounts of radon.
Most Floridians live on the floor where the concentrated radon gas enters the building. Florida is aggressive in its policies attacking unnecessary radon exposure to the public.
Florida is in the forefront in consumer protection concerning radon issues. The State has required radon measurement and reduction companies and personnel to be certified since 1989.
Florida has a mandatory radon testing program for various public facilities, such as public and private schools, state-licensed daycare centers, and 24-hour care facilities such as nursing homes and hospitals.
In Florida businesses and individuals performing radon services must be certified by the radon program
FLORIDA RADON MAP: Click to view with full details
Based on EPA’s national residential radon survey completed in 1991*, the average indoor radon level is about 1.3 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) in air in the United States, while the average outdoor level in the United States is about 0.4 pCi/L.
The EPA Action Level is 4.0 pCi/L and above. There are thousands of individual homes across the U.S. with elevated radon levels in Zone 2 and 3. One state is of particular concern – Florida.
According to the EPA Map of Radon Zones for Florida, the state does not contain any counties in Zone 1 containing the highest levels of radon. However, the map shows 58 counties in Zone 3 and nine counties in Zone 2.
Zone 1 – Highest Potential: counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level greater than 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) (red zones)
Zone 2 – Moderate Potential: counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level between 2 and 4 pCi/L (orange zones)
Zone 3 – Low Potential: counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level less than 2 pCi/L (yellow zones)
According to another source, the Florida Department of Health, Division of Environmental Health, identifies five (5) counties in Zone 1, with 1 in 5 Florida residences having elevated radon levels.
While Florida’s soils have naturally occurring radioactivity, these elevated levels can be attributed primarily to phosphate mining.
It is well documented that old phosphate mines in Florida generate elevated radon concentrations within several miles of the mines, especially on reclaimed land.
The mining process takes what is underground (soils and rock) and puts it at the surface. In doing so, some of the radioactive elements that were buried underground are exposed.
There are various methods to prevent radon entry into homes or reduce radon concentrations after entry.
These modifications are not required by law and contractors don’t usually include them in house design. The EPA has a Radon Contractor Proficiency (RCP) Program to certify contractors in these methods.
Most often house modifications are made when residents of an existing home have the house radon tested and find the radon level is too high for their comfort.
Testing for radon is easy and inexpensive.
Because of the conditions and the resulting elevated radon levels in Florida, the state has a mandatory radon testing program for specific public facilities, including public and private schools, state-licensed daycare centers, and 24-hour care facilities such as nursing homes and hospitals.
However, according to the EPA, all homes and public facilities should test for radon, regardless of geographic location or zone designation, therefore, single-family residential buildings with averages of 4.0 pCi/L should have radon
Mitigation system, which can cost $500 to $2500, depending on the modification needed. One example of a good mitigation system for slab-on-grade home construction is called sub-slab ventilation.
This system uses a pressure differential is used to draw air from under the house and vent it out before the radon gas can enter through cracks in the floor.
Radon gas can be easily reduced to outdoor levels by opening a window(s) to let the outside air mix in and the radon level reaches equilibrium with the atmosphere.
Doing this about every other day would solve the problem for most houses; however, this is considered as a temporary measure, until a mitigation system is installed.
Any air handling system that exchanges air with the outside environment would be helpful.
RISK FOR SMOKERS AND NON-SMOKERS
(Source: National Academy of Sciences, Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation, Sixth Report, 1998)
Radon Level (in pCi/L)
|Odds for non-smokers* of developing lung cancer due to radon if exposed to this level over a lifetime
|Odds for smokers* of developing lung cancer due to radon if exposed to this level over a lifetime**
|1 in 27
|1 in 5
|1 in 68
|1 in 13
|1 in 135
|1 in 26
|1 in 270
|1 in 52
|1 in 1,350
|1 in 260
*Smokers are defined as individuals who have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in a lifetime; non-smokers have never smoked or smoked less than 100 cigarettes in a lifetime.
**This is in addition to the risk of lung cancer from smoking itself.
***Average outdoor radon concentration.
TESTING IS ONLY WAY TO DETERMINE IF THE HOUSE
HAS HIGH LEVELS OF RADON GAS.
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