January is National Radon Action Month.
Radon in our homes is a significant health issue. Forty-nine percent of homes in La Plata County have required mitigation of the colorless, odorless gas produced by decaying uranium in rocks and soil. Long-term exposure can lead to lung cancer and is the second leading cause of lung cancer overall.
The risk to smokers increases significantly when living in a high-radon environment, such as in our area. Prolonged exposure to radon is responsible for 505 deaths annually in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. Using census data, this translates to five people dying annually from radon-induced lung cancer in our region.
There are areas in our community that have significantly high radon levels, and many homes have not been tested. Some homes have had radon levels up to 315 picocuries per liter of air with an average of 6.6 pCi/L. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends mitigation at 4 pCi/L.
Alpha radon particles are the result of long-term decay from shale and granite in our soils that makes their way into our homes. Alpha particles then attach to the dust particles and when inhaled can begin the health concern. Over the course of several years, constant exposure to radon increases a person’s risk for lung cancer.
Testing for radon is a simple process. It requires placement of a kit for three days. At the end of three days, the kit is mailed (pre-addressed and postage paid) to North Carolina, with results available online four days later. Plug-in monitors are not recommended. Not only are they expensive, they don’t necessarily provide the information needed and do not resolve the issue.
In January 2016, Durango adopted radon-resistant new construction in its building code, and La Plata County has recommended its inclusion in the pending land-use code. Radon-resistant construction should be incorporated for new homes as well as major remodels when air flow is altered. Radon-resistant construction is notably less expensive, more effective and easily hidden using some simple techniques. Costs are essentially half that compared with post-construction mitigation.
Radon-resistant construction requires a bit of extra work when building the foundation. A length of 4-inch PVC pipe goes from the ground to the attic and is hidden within the wall. After construction is completed and the homeowner has moved in, a radon test is recommended. If levels are elevated, the mitigation system is adjusted and the resident should test again to be sure levels are below 4.0 pCi/L. Mitigation is simply redirection of air flow. Exposure is easily controlled.
To help residents test homes (owned or rented), the Colorado State University Extension Office in La Plata County will provide whatever test kits are needed (short-term or long-term) at no cost.
The Extension Office has partnered with San Juan Basin Public Health to present several community meetings to discuss radon. There is no charge for attendance at the presentations or for radon-screening kits.
For information about presentations as well as locations, call the Extension Office at 382-6461 or San Juan Basin Public Health at 335-2030.
Wendy Rice is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461.