Radon Poisoning: Learn the Risks

Radon exposure carries serious, life-altering risks. Uncover the symptoms and warning signs to watch for.

The truth about radon gas can be alarming. In sizable amounts and over extended periods of time, radon exposure carries with it a considerable risk of lung cancer. The dangers exponentially increase if you’re also a smoker. But, rest assured. All AmeriSpec inspectors undergo training to promote honest and open communication. Your local AmeriSpec radon inspector can assess radon levels and give you results that are easy to understand.

Just because radon occurs naturally and comes from the earth doesn’t make it safe. We are always exposed to radon to some degree, but prolonged inhalation poses significant threats. To make sure you’re educated on radon symptoms and learn radon mitigation steps you can take in your own home, keep reading.

The Radon Record: A Brief History

Radon was discovered in 1900 by the German physicist Frederich Ernst Dorne. It was the fifth radioactive element that was discovered. Dorne showed that a new radioactive gas arose from the decomposition of radon. He called the gas “Radium Exhalation”. In 1910, Sir William Ramsay and Robert Whytlaw-Gray succeeded in isolating radon and measuring its density and weight. It was discovered that it was one of the heaviest naturally occurring kinds of gas. They renamed the substance “niton”. Radon was definitively chosen as the name of the substance in 1923 by The Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

Stanley J. Watras was a construction engineer at the Limerick nuclear power plant in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. A monitor was installed at the plant to check workers to make sure they did not accidentally accumulate an unsafe dose of radiation at work.

One day, on his way to work, Mr. Watras entered the plant and set off the radiation monitor alarms that help protect workers by detecting exposure to radiation. Safety personnel checked him out, but could not find the source of the radiation. Interestingly, because the plant was under construction at the time, there was no nuclear fuel at the plant, so there was no way for Mr. Watras to have been exposed to any radiation at work. It was later determined that Watras’ home had extraordinarily high levels of radon gas.

Since it has been understood as a health threat, the federal government has made it a priority to address high levels of radon in homes. As a general rule, radon professionals receive certifications from either the National Radon Safety Board (NSRB) or the National Radon Proficiency Program (NRPP). Today, the EPA identifies radon as a major contributor to lung cancer deaths and strongly recommends frequent radon tests.

Radon & Your Health: Exposure & Evidence

Despite popular belief, the symptoms of radon exposure aren’t developed overnight. If your home has high radon levels, you won’t experience overt signs right away or become immediately ill. Because radon decays quickly, it emits tiny radioactive particles. When these are inhaled, they damage cells lining the lungs. Eventually, this damage becomes severe enough to the point where cancer can develop. This makes it all the more important to schedule a radon inspection by an AmeriSpec professional. Otherwise, the gas, and its overall impact, cannot be definitively identified.

Numerous scientific organizations agree that about 12% of diagnosed cases of lung cancer are, at least in part, due to radon. The amount of time between exposure and the onset of cancer varies and not everyone who is exposed will develop lung cancer. It may be many years before any indications of cancer become apparent. Early lung cancer signs can be difficult to pinpoint, but a persistent cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pain and coughing up blood have all been listed as common symptoms. If you suspect you may be experiencing symptoms of lung cancer, see a doctor immediately.

Radon Mitigation

After conducting a radon gas analysis in your home, your AmeriSpec inspector will provide you with the results. If levels are at or above 4.0 pCi/L, mitigation steps should be quickly taken. Just as different patients require different forms of treatment depending on their illness and other physical attributes, the unique characteristics of your home may change the type of mitigation system that works best. Hiring a radon mitigation professional is usually the best step to take. These professionals can determine the appropriate solution for your home’s foundation type.

When constructing a new home, you can request that a radon mitigation system be part of the building process. In an older property, a system will have to be retrofitted for the home. These systems function by using a fan that pulls air from the soil. The resulting exhaust is safely funneled through a pipe and dispersed outdoors. Radon mitigation experts might also recommend sealing small openings in your foundation. Radon first makes its way from the soil into your home through these tiny cracks and gaps. Sealing them off restricts any radon flow.

There are three common types of radon mitigation systems including sub-slab suction, drain tile suction and sub-membrane mechanisms.

  • A sub-slab suction system sucks radon gas from the soil below a concrete slab. Radon suction pipes allow the gas to travel from the collection chamber and eventually through the vent fan and out of the home.

  • Drain tile suction uses a vacuum mechanism in existing drain tile networks. A pipe is fed through the drain tile and vents radon outside.

  • Sub-membranes are used in crawl spaces and create air-tight vapor barriers. Special plastic covers are applied over dirt and extend up walls until sealed. A suction pipe is placed inside the seal, creating a vacuum that pulls out radon and vents it outside.

Radon mitigation costs vary and depend on the system you need. After installation, it’s still important to schedule another AmeriSpec radon check to assure radon has decreased to habitable levels. Based on the needs of your home, AmeriSpec also offers a variety of other [specialty inspections](specialty inspections) backed by over 30 years of credibility and excellence.

The EPA suggests that before buying any home, you find out indoor radon measurement levels. More and more, homes are being built with radon resistant construction practices. Ask the seller if this is the case or if any radon reduction systems have been installed. Local government statutes differ and, depending on where you live, you may be legally required to disclose radon information during the home buying process.

If you need help finding a licensed radon mitigation professional, AmeriSpec inspectors can refer you to your state radon office. These offices can provide you with a list of service providers in your area.

The sanctity of a home is something that should never be sacrificed. Your local AmeriSpec inspector will alert you to hazardous radon gas levels and possible exposure. And we’ll always do so calmly and honestly so you’re equipped to tackle the problem with ease.