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Living green starts from the ground up. If radon levels in your air or well water are high, what should you do? What will it cost? More....

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- by Pam Salois and Bet Zimmerman

An estimated five percent of homes in the U.S. have radon levels that are considered unsafe.  If your home has been tested for radon and levels in the air are above 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/l), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends taking action.  Most experts also recommend installing a water treatment system if radon levels in your well water are over 5,000 to 20,000 pCi/l.  (Large public water supplies typically do not have a radon problem because storage and treatment methods get rid of it.)

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For more information about radon in CT, contact the CT Dept. of Health at 860.509.7367 or see their website.  The EPA Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction is at www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/consguid.html.  EPA maintains a list of certified radon mitigation contractors.  The CT Dept. of Public Health also has a list.

To get this naturally occurring but unwelcome guest out of your house, go to a pro.  They have the technical knowledge to figure out how radon is entering your home and the best way to correct the problem.  Here are some important things to consider when choosing a contractor: Are they licensed, insured and experienced?  Have they explained how the system would work and why it would be best for your situation, how long it will take to install, and all costs (including testing) and maintenance involved?  What kind of guarantees do they offer?  Does the system have a warning device? Will they come back to check on radon levels to verify that the system is working?  As with all home repair contracting, it’s a good idea to get references and more than one estimate. Once you’ve selected a contractor, read the contract to make sure that all your concerns are addressed and you understand exactly what you are getting.

There are several methods to reduce radon levels.  Some involve removing radon after it has entered your home.  EPA recommends methods that prevent radon from entering.     

Soil suction is the most commonly used way to prevent radon from entering houses on a slab or with a basement.  Radon vapors are sucked out from beneath the foundation and vented through a pipe(s) to the outside air, where they are quickly diluted.  If the house has a crawl space, submembrane suction is often used.  With this system, the dirt is covered with a high density sheet of plastic.  A vent pipe underneath is used with a fan to draw radon out of the house.

Radon reduction methods that can be used on any type of house include sealing, house/room pressurization, heat recovery ventilation, and natural ventilation.  Some of these techniques are not reliable when used alone, and should be used in combination with other methods.

If radon levels in your water are high, the primary risk is not from drinking it  - it’s from inhalation during showers or baths.   You can treat your home water supply with either a “point of entry” or aeration system on the pipe coming into the house.   Each type has advantages and disadvantages.  You should discuss the options with your state radon office or water treatment professional before deciding which action to take.
What will it cost?  A contractor should inspect your home structure and evaluate the quality of your radon measurement results before giving you an estimate.  EPA say the expense typically  runs between $800 and $2,500, depending on how high the initial radon level is, how big your house is, what type of foundation it has, and what type of system is going to be installed.  A water treatment system might cost between $1,500 and $5,000.  There are also operating expenses, such as utilities (e.g., to run a fan), filters,  parts and labor.  On the other hand, your family’s long-term health is probably priceless.  According to Dr. Gary Ginsburg and Brian Toal, authors of What’s Toxic and What’s Not, “Of all the environmental chemicals that have the potential to cause cancer, radon may be the highest risk of all.” 


References and More Information:


Bet Zimmerman is a Certified Environmental Professional.  Pam Salois is a GreenIrene consultant.  Their articles published on July 31 covered what radon is, and why you should care.  The August 7 column dealt with how to test your house for radon.  See the Our Better Nature archives at www.ourbetternature.org.  


Originally published in the Villager newspapers on August 28, 2009


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