We periodically encounter unexpected and unpleasant circumstances in life that catch us off guard: a flat tire, a broken tooth, flooding in our home during a rain, a death in the family. All these sorts of things are generally unavoidable and leave us asking the question, why me?
However, more frequently today, many homeowners, homebuyers and home sellers are encountering a health risk that is totally preventable: problems with radon gas.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium deep in the ground. As uranium decays, it produces radium, which upon further decay produces radon. Normally the quantities of radon we breathe each day aren't very significant because it is diluted by the earth's atmosphere. However, radon becomes trapped under structures as it rises to the surface. Because it is pressure driven, it finds its way inside through cracks in the slab, around 'plumbing piping, floor drains and cinderblock walls. Once inside, it collects to levels the EPA has determined to be a significant health risk. Long-term exposure to elevated levels of radon is believed to be the second leading cause of lung cancer (after smoking). In fact, more deaths are estimated to be caused by radon each year in the U.S. (22,000) than those individually from fires, drowning, airplane crashes, and drunk driving. Furthermore, if you smoke and have a radon problem in your home, your risks are four to five times higher because the smoke helps the radon enter your lungs.
The only way you will know if your home has a problem is to get it tested. Radon testing is relatively inexpensive if performed by the homeowner ($20-$35) or if done by a professional who can certify the results for a real estate transaction ($50-$125) (depending how fast the results are needed). If you contract with someone to perform your test, make sure they are certified to conduct and interpret the tests by a nationally recognized radon certification organization (NEHA or the NRSB).
Problems with radon typically originate in areas of the country where bedrock granite is more prevalent. However, elevated levels of radon have been found in all fifty states, so the only way to know whether your home has a problem is to get your house tested.
If you encounter elevated levels of radon, you should contact contractors in your area who are certified to design and install radon abatement systems. The cost to fix the problem can vary (from $600 to $2500)...