A silent killer lurks underground. Radon, a naturally occurring gas, cannot be seen, tasted or smelled—yet kills 21,000 people from lung cancer in the United States each year.
The radioactive gas is released in rock, soil, and water and can build up to create dangerous levels inside homes and work places. The EPA has designated January “Radon Action Month” since 1999 in an effort to raise awareness and encourage businesses and homeowners with the tools to get tested.
“Exposure to radon is the main cause of lung cancer for never-smokers and the second leading cause for the general population after smoking,” wrote Philip Jalbert, communications director with the EPA’s Indoor Environments Division. “Homes with an elevated level of radon at or above EPA’s action level of 4pCi/l, have been found in every state. It’s important to note that there is no known ‘safe’ level of radon; radon at a level below 4pCi/L still poses a risk.”
The EPA and World Health Organization have developed radon risk management policies to ensure proper testing and mitigation services, and encourage businesses and homeowners to contact a state radon program for individualized resources and support.
“The potential for radon is, and can be, a localized phenomenon; primarily due to local geology,” said Brett Sherry, program manager with Oregon Health Authority, Oregon’s radon program. “There is no reliable way to predict the radon concentration in a building prior to construction.”
“Exposure to radon is the main cause of lung cancer for never-smokers and the second leading cause for the general population after smoking."
Various methods can be used to lower radon levels. Basic prevention includes sealing cracks and other openings in building foundations or covering sump pump holes in water basins. Aggressive HVAC systems, sub-slab, drain tile, and block wall suction methods are also used, but not proven to consistently lower radon levels in buildings.
The most effective radon mitigation technique is sub-slab depressurization system. It uses a series of pipes to collect the radon before it enters the building and is then funneled outdoors. According to the EPA, system description labels must be placed on all mitigation systems on the electric service entrance panel, or other prominent location.
Ensure pipes are properly labeled as hazardous material, and develop a pipe marking system to ensure continued air quality. Radon labels must be legible from a distance of at least three feet and include the following information:
"Radon Reduction System, the installer's name, phone number, RCP Identification Number, date of installation, and an advisory that the building should be tested for radon at least every two years or as required or recommended by state or local agencies.”
All exposed and visible interior radon system vent piping sections must be identified with at least one label per floor that identifies the pipe as part of the radon reduction system. Appropriate labels include: “Radon Reduction System,” “Radon System Pipe,” “Component of Radon Reduction System,” or “Radon Pipe.” Graphic Products line of label printers ensure these labels stand in harsh conditions and inclement weather.
Despite the toxicity of radon, the goal of National Radon Action Month isn’t to cause hysteria, Sherry said.
“We’ve had people call in in tears, usually not on their own behalf but for their children,” he added. “You can’t go back in time and remove that exposure, but you can prevent further exposure.”
The EPA encourages home owners and businesses to undergo and initial radon test before contracting a professional radon mitigator.
Step 1: Take a short-term radon test. There are various radon test kits which use activated carbon, charcoal liquid scintillation, or ionization chambers to absorb and measure radon. You can purchase a $15 short-term radon test kit from the American Lung Association here.
Step 2: If your result is 4 pCi/L or higher take another short-term test. If the average of both short-term tests is above 4 pCi/L, or the result of your long-term test is above 4 pCi/L—contact a radon mitigation service provider to eradicate the problem. If your test results are below the action level of 4 pCi/L, retest within six months.
Radon Action Month
For more information, visit Epa.gov/radon or contact the National Radon Program Services hotline at 1-800-SOS-RADON. Graphic Products offers a complimentary Pipe Marking Guide which will ensure workers are informed and protected while working around hazardous materials or in areas where Radon may be present.