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High Country Real Estate: What is Radon Anyway?

By Jay Coble, REALTOR, Blue Ridge Realty & Investments

Just a few decades ago, if you weren’t a geologist, chemist, or another type of scientist the chances of you being familiar with radon were fairly slim. Certainly it wasn’t something a homeowner or a REALTOR were expected to know about, but, as we all know, things change every day. The world evolves, we learn more, and as our knowledge grows, so does our toolbox of ways to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

It’s not that radon was undiscovered until the late twentieth century; no, it was discovered in 1900 by Frederich Ernst Dorn, a German chemist as he was studying the decay chain of radium. 

In the mid-1980s, a worker at a nuclear power  plant in eastern Pennsylvania set off a radiation detector when reporting for work one morning. The odd thing was, the plant was under construction and had not yet received its nuclear fuel. An investigation revealed unusually high amounts of radon in the workers home. The state of Pennsylvania began testing other homes in the area and found elevated levels of radon.

This led to the involvement of the Environmental Protection Agency and several other states in the study of indoor radon levels. By the early 21st century, radon had been found indoors in every state and  the shadow of radon and its invisible dangers had made its way into the lexicon of the American property owner.

So, what is radon?

According to the EPA’s brochure Basic Radon Facts:

“Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that forms when uranium, thorium, or radium, which are radioactive metals, break down I rock, soil and water. Radon can build up to dangerous levels inside any home; this includes new and old homes, well sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without a basement. Radon gas is odorless and invisible and the only way to know if your home has a radon problem is to test for it.”

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer for smokers; it’s the number one cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. 

Yes, it is a serious health risk. But it can also be tested for easily and if there is a problem, there is a solution. 

Tests can be purchased at most hardware stores or online. Or you can hire a professional to do the testing for you. 

Radon is measured in picociries per liter (pCi/L). The US Surgeon General and the EPA recommend taking measures to reduce the levels of radon in your home if your home tests at 4pCi/L, or higher. Some radon reduction systems have been shown to reduce radon by up to 99%. 

If you have a radon issue, do seek the help of a qualified professional. The cost of a radon mitigation system depends on several factors, including the size and style of your home, plus the type of foundation.

For more information on Radon visit EPA.gov or CDC.gov