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Indoor air quality- whether home, school or office- may not immediately, or secondarily, come to mind as a carcinogenic source. Still, elevated indoor radon levels remain the second leading cause of lung cancer today according to medical professions and government agencies, including the EPA.
Radon, like carbon monoxide, is invisible and odorless and can pose a serious health issue. Conversely, radon remediation is an indoor air quality control solution.
For this reason, the AMA (American Medical Association), ALA (American Lung Association), the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), VDH (Virginia Department of Health), CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and other public and private entities are strong advocates of radon inspections and remediation, especially when buying or selling a home.
Limited vs Concentrated Radon Levels: Radon is defined as “radioactive gas released from the normal decay of the elements uranium, thorium, and radium in rocks and soil”, and therefore “can be found everywhere” according to the ALA and other reliable sources. “Exposure to limited concentrations, like those found outdoors, is impossible to avoid. However, when radon gets trapped indoors, it may exist in dangerous concentrations.”
Is There a Home Health Remedy? With elevated levels, defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as above 4 picocuries per liter (or pCi/L), the installation of a radon remediation system, typically a seller paid expense in residential real estate transactions.Whether buying, or selling, or staying, it is strongly advised by both private and public professionals (environmental, medical, scientific, real estate) to have every home tested for radon. If elevated levels exist, then install a remediation system.
Post remediation results should yield acceptable levels, defined by the EPA as below 4 pCi/L. Some radon removal companies guarantee post remediation results to be 2 pCi/L or below, so ask in advance.
Post radon remediation analysis can yield “undetectable levels” of radon, defined as 0.3 pCi/L or less.
When vetting radon companies, check that it is licensed and insured, with certification by (NRSB National Radon Safety Board) and/or NEHA (National Environmental Health Association).
Bottom Line: "Sometimes, when a home is tested and results show elevated levels of radon, misinformed or uninformed home buyers walk away from a ratified contract. However, like regularly scheduled pest control treatments, a radon system is a visible sign of responsible home ownership," says Realtor, Judy McCloskey in northern VA. "That is not a home to run away from- it's a home to run towards. Every time a potential buyer passes on an exceptional house because of borderline or elevated radon levels, a better informed buyer ratifies the home sale contract and reaps the benefits: a seller paid remediation system- a system that improves the household's quality of life, and increases the buyer's equity. It seems to me that every home owner has good reason to install a system regardless of intent to sell."
All Things Considered: Can a Home be Absolutely 'Radon Free'? Dr Stephen Hall, Geochemist: No, because at the very least it’s going to have levels the same as outdoors, if not remediated and no system is in place. In Virginia, outdoor levels are between 0.5 and 0.8, which you might as well call one. However, post installation, 95% [of ours] come back at “undetectable levels” defined as 0.3 or less.
Ryan Paris, VA Dept of Health: The average US indoor level is 1.3 pCi/L and the average outdoor level is about 0.3 - 0.4 pCi/L. A post mitigation level of < 2.0 pCi/L is preferred and is achievable in most cases. An indoor level of 0.0 (even after mitigation) is extremely rare.
Judy McCloskey, Realtor: Given that radon is a naturally occurring gas, part of the air we breathe outdoors and indoors, no- I do not think it is possible to have a radon free home. However, with a radon remediation system in place, it is possible to have acceptable, even undetectable, levels.
All Things Considered: What Is the One Thing You Wish Everyone Knew and Understood About Radon?
Stephen Hall, Ph.D., Geo-chemist: The one thing I wish everyone would know and do is what the EPA says: Every single home should be tested and remediated if above 4.
Ryan Paris, VA Dept of Health: The only way to know if a particular home has a radon problem is to test. You cannot use anything to accurately predict whether a home has a radon issue or not. The underlying geology and many other influential factors can vary tremendously from house to house. Sometimes only 1 or 2 homes in a neighborhood have high radon levels. Testing and mitigation are usually relatively easy, cheap and successful.
Judy McCloskey, Realtor: The one thing I wish buyers would know and do is that the presence of radon isn't a deal breaker, as much as it is an item on a home sale to-do list. Remediation is a seller paid solution and so buyers can see the transaction through, especially when the objective is to live that next chapter- closer to work, closer to the family, retirement - however the client defines it.
The one thing I wish sellers would do is be proactive when it comes to radon inspections and remediation. It makes sense to do this for your own well-being, while you're the occupant. So why not get out in front of it, test and remediate prior to listing? If you decide to stay, you'll provide a healthier environment for your household. If you decide to sell, you'll be ready for the upcoming inspections.
Interview with Ryan Paris, Radiation Safety Specialist at Va. Dept. of Health
Interview with Dr. Stephen Hall, Geochemist, Charter Member of National Radon Association and Member AARST.