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posted: 11/17/2012 5:00 AM

Radon is in all homes, but not at elevated levels

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By Dwight Barnett

A friend recently asked that I write about radon gas in the home and how it can affect the sale of real estate. Here is my experience with radon and radon testing:

Radon is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that occurs as uranium or thorium decays in the soils. Radon can be found all over the globe wherever there are soils; therefore, it occurs naturally in the air we breathe every day. When radon gas enters a home or other building through cracks, sump pits or other natural openings in or under the home, the gas can accumulate to a point where it becomes a serious health hazard.

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According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov/radon/), radon is the second-most-frequent cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking. It causes more than 20,000 lung-cancer deaths per year in the United States. Some estimates are that 1 in every 15 homes has an elevated level of radon gas.

All homes have radon, but not all homes have elevated levels of radon. As the radon gas decays inside the home, it produces new elements called "radon daughters or progenies" that are solids that stick to dust particles that can be inhaled. These radon-contaminated dust particles then stick to the airways of the lungs, increasing the chances of developing lung cancer.

Every home should be checked for elevated levels of radon to ensure the health of the home's occupants. A test can be as easy as placing a charcoal canister inside a basement or bedroom for several days or months and then sending the canister to a certified laboratory for analysis. Charcoal canisters can be found at most home and big-box stores. The canister should be left inside the home with the windows and doors closed, except for normal entry and exit. Every time a door or window is opened, the air pressure inside the home drops. This is when radon-contaminated air from under the foundation enters the home to equalize the indoor pressure. Radon can also enter during heavy rains (radon is water-soluble) or when there are strong winds that lower the air pressures inside the home.

During a real-estate transaction, time is of the essence, so a more sophisticated method of testing is performed by a licensed radon tester using state-of-the-art equipment for a minimum 48-hour test period. If you have a well, the water should also be checked for radon gas, which dissipates into the air when one showers or bathes.

Do-it-yourself radon-water test kits can be purchased online at www.radonzone.com/radon-water-test-kit.html for less than $30. A "Citizen's Guide to Radon" can be found at www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/citguide.html#howdoes and a radon-concentration map of the U.S. can be found at www.epa.gov/radon/zonemap.html.

• Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home improvement questions at d.Barnett@insightbb.com.

Scripps Howard News Service

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