The purpose of this post is to inform, not frighten. Thoughts of radon gas in the home conjure up fear in many people. Reading to learn about it can be challenging. There are very many stories, reports, publications, companies, and anecdotes. Making good sense out of them is difficult. It seemed important to document our story to help others have a clearer idea of the correct information so they can make well-informed decisions.
In the spring of 2014, I attended three Mini-Med School sessions for the public offered by the U of IA College of Medicine, about research they are doing on cancer. Presenters told of their efforts to understand the disease, decode its behavior, and how the public benefits from their research. A presenter the second week spoke about lung cancer. Because we live in Iowa, the subject of radon infiltration into homes was part of the discussion. Radon is recognized as the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking. Iowa has the highest levels of radon of all the states. Every county in Iowa has levels which exceed the recommended maximum.
The Environmental Protection Agency citizen guide says the maximum level should be 4 pCi/L (pico-Curies per liter of air). The pCi/L is a unit of measure of radioactive concentration in a sample of air. Readings above 4 pCi/L should have mitigation done to reduce it. The average level for the nation for outside air is 0.4 pCi/L. It might be as high as 0.75 pCi/L, depending on where you live. The problem with radon is how it seeps from the ground, infiltrates through the slab and walls of the foundation, and accumulates in dwellings to levels that might exceed current health standards.
This map predicts the likelihood that dwellings in these zones will have a particular value of radon when tested. It does not state that all dwellings will have those values. It is predictive of the potential. Red zones predict a value higher than 4 pCi/L. All of Iowa is a red zone.
Red Zone 1 (>4 pCi/L) — Orange Zone 2 (2 to 4 pCi/L) — Yellow Zone 3 (<2 pCi/L)
Following the university sessions, I felt it was important to test our house for radon level. I don’t spend a lot of time in the lower level where radon tends to be the highest amounts. But, my wife Melanie in IA does. She is a quilter. Her fabrics, sewing machines, and projects are all on the lower level. She deserves a safe environment. Plus, she was raised in a house with a lot of second-hand smoke. That raises her risk factor.
What did you do about it?