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January is Radon Action Month


Parents want to do all they can to help protect the health and safety of their families. That’s why it is so important to test your home for radon.

 

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas formed by the natural decay of uranium in rock, soil and water.  Radon is invisible, odorless and tasteless, and can only be detected by specialized tests.  Radon enters homes through openings that are in contact with the ground, such as cracks in the foundation, small openings around pipes, and sump pits.

 

Radon, like other radioactive materials, undergoes radioactive decay that forms decay products. Radon and its decay products release radioactive energy that can damage lung tissue through inhalation and potentially cause lung cancer. The more radon you are exposed to, and the longer the exposure, the greater the risk of eventually developing lung cancer. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking resulting in approximately 22,000 deaths in the United States every year. If you smoke, your risk of developing lung cancer is even more significant. There are more lung cancer deaths from radon exposure than from second-hand smoke.

 

For these reasons, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection recommends that all homes be tested for radon. Testing your home for radon is easy, and if high levels are detected, they can be mitigated.  By law, all professionals who perform radon testing or correct radon problems in New Jersey must be certified.  

 

Homeowners can purchase a device at a local hardware store or home center and test for radon themselves or hire a New Jersey certified radon measurement company.  Some certified radon measurement companies also sell test kits directly to homeowners via mail order, and test kits are often available in hardware stores or from local health departments.  

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the DEP recommend that you take action to mitigate your home if your test results indicate radon levels at 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or more. A

picocurie per liter is a measure of radioactivity in the air. It is important to note that this action level was established because it was technologically achievable at the time, not because it entirely eliminates the risk from radon exposure. There is no truly “safe” level of radon since lung cancer can result from very low exposures; however, the likelihood decreases as the radon concentration decreases. In about 60 percent of the homes that have been mitigated in New Jersey, radon levels have been brought down to less than 1 pCi/L.

 

Indoor radon concentrations depend on highly variable factors:  the distribution of uranium-rich rocks and soils near the home, and the porousness of the soil; the number and size of entryways into the home, such as tiny cracks in the slab, french drains and sump pits; and the air pressure in the lowest level of the home, which is affected by heating, cooling, and exhaust systems, as well as by the weather. The lower the air pressure in the home compared to outside air pressure, the more quickly radon will enter the home.  As a result, it is not uncommon to have a home with very high levels next to a home with extremely low levels.

 

A single short-term test of 2 days to 7 days can be used to indicate the radon level in your home.  Short-term tests include charcoal canisters, electrets and continuous radon monitors.  For short-term tests, it is very important to maintain closed-house conditions, since ventilation can increase or decrease levels in unpredictable ways. This means all windows and doors that let in outside air on all floors must be kept closed except for normal entrances and exits.  You need to maintain closed-house conditions until the short-term test is finished.  For tests that last fewer than four days, closed-house conditions must start at least 12 hours before you begin the test.

 

A long-term test of 3 months to 12 months will provide your best estimate of average exposure over time because radon levels fluctuate daily and by season. Normal open-house conditions can be maintained during this test. Long-term test devices are usually either alpha track detectors or electrets; both tests are considered equally reliable. 

 

Remember, the only way to know if you have a radon problem is to test.  Don’t expose your family to an easily preventable health risk.  New Jersey residents can get a listing of certified testing and mitigation businesses, testing procedures, mitigation techniques and informational brochures by calling (800) 648-0394 or visit www.njradon.org.

 

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