What Are the Dangers of Radon Gas?

Understanding the dangers of Radon Gas with Gayla Smith of Certified Site Inspections – House Talk Episode 51

Karen Malanga: Hi, this is Karen Malanga with another edition of House Talk. I am so pleased to have Gayla Smith here today. She’s with Certified Site Inspections.

And the reason she’s here is she gave our whole office a presentation on radon. And it was fascinating! I didn’t know the dangers of radon. I didn’t know how serious it could be. And I certainly didn’t know it was here in Central Oregon.

So Gayla, welcome to the program. And tell us a little bit.

Gayla Smith: Oh, thank you for having me here.

Karen: You’re welcome.

Gayla: I’ll tell you a little history about radon. Back in 1898, Pierre Marie Curie, they discovered radium and radioactivity. But it wasn’t until 1923 that from radium, the radioactive gas was emitted was then found and renamed to radon gas.

Karen: Hmmm… so what is radon? I mean, I have to just interject here and say I remember fourth grade, I did a report on Madame Curie. And I remember reading about her. But can you explain to us a little bit more about what radon is.

Gayla: Well, radon is a radioactive gas. And it’s released from uranium deep down in the soil. It becomes radium. And then, as it comes up to the earth’s surface, it becomes radon gas.

Well, it’s all over the world because it’s deep down in the earth. So it is in the United States. And it’s the number one cause of lung cancer for people who don’t smoke. Now, the EPA has estimated 21,000 people die a year in the United States from radon-related lung cancer. That’s about 55 people a day.

Karen: That’s so frightening to me. How do you learn if you have radon in your home? How do you mediate it? What do you do?

Gayla: Well, the only way you can tell is through testing because you can’t see it, you can’t taste it, you can’t smell it, you can’t feel it.

Karen: So scary!

Gayla: And it comes up to the earth, and it actually comes into the home. They found out about it back in 1984 back East when a contractor was working on a nuclear power plant. They didn’t have any radioactive product in the plant all the time, but he set off all the alarms. And when he set off all the alarms, they went, “Wait! There’s a problem here because this guy is emitting a radioactive product.” So, they went to his house, and they found out about radon in homes.

So, in 1986, the United States introduced the Indoor Air Quality Research Act. And through that, they found out there’s 1 in 15 homes in the United States that has high, dangerous levels of radon.

Karen: That is so frightening to me—I mean, even just for myself, but then I have grandchildren. It’s really important to get our homes tested.

Gayla: Oh, definitely. Every home should be tested. They didn’t really find out about it here in the Northwest until 2003.

Karen: That’s not very long ago.

Gayla: That’s not very long ago. It was through a family in Lake Oswego. They were a healthy family. Her husband, Bob, was 48 years old. And all of a sudden, he got very sick. He went to the doctor, and he found out he had stage IV lung cancer.

He never smoked. He never lounged around cigarette smoke. They asked the doctor. They said, “What’s going on?” And the doctor said, “Have you ever heard of radon?”

So Marlene, she called the EPA in Oregon and said, “Is there a radon issue in Oregon?”

The EPA said, “Well, where do you live?”

“Lake Oswego.”

“Well, no, the average level is 1.8. You have nothing to worry about.”

Well, she immediately went—she didn’t take that. She immediately went down and got a test kit. She tested their home and found out she had 57.2 picocuries of radon in her home. That’s 14 times…

Karen: …the legal limit?

Gayla: Yeah, the actual level which was 4.0.

Karen: That’s horrifying.

Gayla: So, the only way  that you could find out if you have radon in your home is to test. And it’s so easy to take care of it. It’s so easy to mitigate.

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Karen: Yeah, you went into that in our presentation. And I found that fascinating.

Gayla: Right! There are several ways to test. There’s a short-term test which is 2-3 days. You can get those kits. Or you can hire a professional like myself to come in and then do a continuous radon monitor testing, and you get the results right away.

Or you can do a long-term tests. Those long-term tests are very accurate. And I highly recommend those. But those take 91 days to a year.

Karen: Wow!

Gayla: So, if you want to find out right away if you have an issue, I would highly recommend a short-term test.

Karen: Yeah, I would highly recommend that our listeners call you.

Gayla: That would be great.

Now, mitigation is very easy to take care of because all you have to do is catch that radon before it comes into the house. So it doesn’t matter whether you have a basement or slab-on grade or if you have a crawl space.

I found when I was a mitigator, it was very easy to mitigate a home that had a basement because all they had to do was cut a hole in the concrete floor, dig out about 10 gallons of soil, place the PVC (which is usually schedule 40 or you can use schedule 20), seal it to that floor and bring the pipe to the outside.

Karen: And that’s it?

Gayla: That’s it! That’s a non-active radon mitigation system. If you want an active system, then you add a fan to it.

Karen: Okay.

Gayla: And that way, it draws the air out.

So, what happens is that the radon gas is coming up through the earth. And it’s going to wherever it’s drawn. So if you have a house that has a mitigation system in it, that vacuum is actually drawing the radon was it’s coming up. It catches it before it comes into the house. It blows it outside.

Karen: Well, that sounds like the ideal situation.

Gayla: Oh, it is.

Karen: So Gayla, how does someone reach you to have their home tested for radon? And you also do home inspections as well.

Gayla: That’s correct. Also, you can get more information through EPA.gov. It’s EPA.gov/radon. And that will give you some more information about radon.

And how to reach me is Certified Site Inspections. The phone number is 541-801-6964.

Karen: Thank you so much for being here today. I have a feeling we’re going to get a flood of questions about this. We  may have to have you back again.

Gayla: Everybody should test their home.

Karen: Yeah. Thank you so much.

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