Radon testing

Because you can't see it, smell it or even taste it, you may be living with high concentrations of radon in your home without realizing it. 

I’ve received involved calls this summer about radon. Though testing in the winter is encouraged when the ground is frozen and homes are often closed up, repairs and mitigation can be done in any season. The presence of this radioactive gas comes from decaying subsurface uranium, and it can migrate into your home through fissures in a cement floor, crawl space dirt or even cracked block walls.

Radon is no discriminator — it can attack the lungs of not only homeowners, but also renters, students in schools or employees at the office if there is sufficient uranium decay below, permeable soils for it to inundate and a defective building foundation. Taking a test sample and mailing it in is the way to find out if you are living with radon. Prolonged exposure time, coupled with high concentrations, can not only affect you currently, but there is also a “latent time” element so that even if you leave a contaminated building to live or work in another that has pristine indoor air quality, your lungs can be compromised from the earlier exposure.

Because you can’t see it, smell it or even taste it, you may be living with high concentrations of radon in your home without realizing it. The only way you will reliably know the extent of its presence in your home is to take a sample with a certified kit and send it out to a lab.

Typically with the returned results, you will be provided with an average of the concentration of radon over the period of time you had the sample device activated in your home. That single number, when at or above four (picocuries of radon concentration in a liter of air), should motivate you into action, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Several sequential and fairly simple steps can be followed to reduce the entrance of radon gas into your home and your exposure. Two free printed guides are being completed to help the public with this, which will be soon available through the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Geological and Geophysical Survey.

UAF Cooperative Extension has been a partner with this agency as well as the American Lung Association since the first residential radon testing was first introduced to Alaska a little over three decades ago. Aside from developing publications, we collaborate on various educational events/outreach efforts, handled funding to distribute complimentary short-term and long-term home test kits, and have provided tailored technical assistance through the radon hotline at 800-478-8324.

If you or any other Alaskan are interested in receiving a complimentary test kit (short-term involves sampling for a few days, or a long-term kit, sampling up to a year) call the radon hotline and let me know. If you have tested or are thinking of buying a home where you know the test results, I can talk with you about how to mitigate radon, depending on the layout, operation and circumstances of your particular building.

As you may well know, in Alaska few homes are the same, and thus sometimes it takes troubleshooting over a conversation to come up with several workable steps. But it is worth it for your lungs’ health and for those of the people you care about in the same airspace.

Art Nash is the Extension energy and radon specialist for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 907-474-6366 or by email at alnashjr@alaska.edu.