It’s common knowledge that the air inside our homes can be full of invisible, dangerous toxins (no, we’re not talking about last night’s burritos). We all know to be careful of things like carbon monoxide and lead paint, but there’s more you should be on the lookout for in Milwaukie, OR: radon.
What is Radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that seeps up from the ground and into our homes through cracks and openings in the foundation. It’s invisible, odorless, and tasteless, which makes it extremely difficult to detect. The only way to know for sure if your home has high levels of radon is to test for it.
The Dangers of Radon
If you’re thinking that this sounds like something out of a horror movie, you’re not alone. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers in the United States. It’s responsible for an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. That’s more than double the number of deaths caused by house fires!
So how does inhaling radon gas lead to lung cancer? When you breathe in radon gas, it breaks down into radioactive particles that can become trapped in your lungs. These particles release small bursts of energy as they decay, and over time, this energy can damage lung tissue and lead to cancer. The risk of developing lung cancer from exposure to radon gas increases with prolonged exposure and with higher levels of radon in the air.
What About Radon Levels in Milwaukie, OR?
The Radon Risk Level for Milwaukie, OR (or Clackamas) is low with only 7% of tested locations showing dangerous radon levels but the Oregon Public Health Division recommends that all homes test for radon regardless of the risk level assigned to the home’s geographic location.
So what can you do to protect yourself and your family from this invisible killer? Read on to find out.
Testing for Radon in Your Home
There are steps you can take to protect yourself from exposure to radon gas. The first step is to test your home for radon. Fortunately, testing for radon is easy and there are a variety of ways to do it. Here are five of the most popular methods:
1. Radon Test Kits
You can find radon test kits at most hardware stores or online. These kits usually involve placing a small device in your home for a while—usually 2-3 days—and then sending it back to the company for analysis. While this method is quick and easy, it’s not always accurate; results can be affected by factors like drafts, temperature, and humidity.
2. Continuous Radon Monitors
Continuous radon monitors are more expensive than test kits but they’re also more accurate. These devices constantly take readings and send them to a central unit, which displays the results in real time. This way, you can track changes over time and get a more accurate picture of the level of radon in your home.
3. Charcoal Canisters
Charcoal canisters are another popular option for testing radon levels. They work by absorbing radon gas from the air and then measuring the amount of radiation emitted by the charcoal over time. Like test kits, charcoal canisters are prone to inaccuracies but they’re still useful for getting a general idea of the level of radon present in your home.
4. Active Sub-Slabs
Active sub-slabs are one of the most accurate ways to test for radon but they’re also one of the most expensive. With this method, sensors are placed under your home’s foundation and connected to a monitoring system that tracks changes in temperature, humidity, and radiation levels. This data is then used to calculate the amount of radon present in your home.
5. Passive Sub-Slabs
Passive sub-slabs are similar to active sub-slabs but with one important difference: instead of being connected to a monitoring system, passive sub-slabs rely on you to periodically check the sensors and record the data yourself. While this method is less expensive than active sub-slabs, it’s also less accurate since human error can come into play when recording data manually.
What to Do if Your Radon Level is High
If your home tests positive for high levels of radon gas—defined as 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher—don’t panic! There are ways to reduce the level of radon gas in your home so that it’s no longer a threat to your health. The most common way to do this is through a process called “sub-slab depressurization.” This involves installing a vent pipe in your basement floor that draws radon gas away from your home before it has a chance to enter through cracks or openings in the foundation.
Contact the Oregon Health Authority for more information on reducing radon levels in your home.
Although no one likes to think about it, deadly gases like radon are present in nearly every home. Fortunately, there are a variety of easy ways to test for radon gas and, if necessary, take steps to mitigate it. If you’re concerned about radon levels in your home, consider using one of the methods listed above to get peace of mind.
January is National Radon Action Month sponsored by the EPA. If you’re concerned about the radon levels in your Milwaukie, OR home, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) can provide more resources and information on radon. OHA offers a variety of services related to radon, online resources, fact sheets, and training. If you have any questions or concerns about radon, don’t hesitate to contact OHA. They’ll be happy to help!