What is Radon?

Have you heard of radon?  I assume your answer is ‘yes’ since most people have.

Do you know what radon is? I assume your answer is ‘no’ since most people don’t. At least not in any great detail.

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So what is it? One explanation is that radon is a gaseous radioactive element in the decay chain of uranium.  Uranium is present around the globe from the surface to deep underground.  When it decays into radon it rises to the surface due to pressure differences. As it rises it can infiltrate and accumulate in basements.

Another answer is that radon is a toxic gas that causes more deaths than traffic accidents. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. To make matters worse, if you are a smoker, radons is even more likely to cause cancer than in a non-smoker.  Regardless of where your house is, there is a potential for elevated radon accumulation in your home.

Source: https://takeactiononradon.ca

Source: https://takeactiononradon.ca

Radon is colourless and odourless so you never know it’s there. You can breathe it in and out and it may never affect you.  Until it does.  Remember that radon is radioactive.  That means it readily decays and when it does it fires off an alpha particle that can damage the DNA in your cells. When that radon loses the alpha particle it decays into polonium which is a heavy metal. It sits in your lungs decaying further and emitting more radiation that can also damage DNA.  That’s how radiation can cause cancer.

The standard test for radon has always been a long term test of 90 days.  If you really want an accurate measurement of the average amount of radon in your house, that test will give you the data.  But if you had a gas leak or a carbon monoxide leak, how much data would you need before you decided to do something about it? Would you want to wait three months to find out?

“There is no known threshold below which radon exposure carries no risk. The lower

the radon concentration in a home, the lower the risk.” - World Health Organization

I am a member of the home inspector association called OntarioACHI.  They have developed a new standard for short-term radon testing with a certification: OntarioACHI Certified Radon Measurement Inspector (OCRMI).  This standard describes the methods to get a reasonable reading on the radon levels in a home in 48 hours.  The intention is not to identify exact levels of radon for health risk identification, but to determine if there is a defect in the home. 48 hours is sufficient to determine if that defect exists. This timeline can fit nicely into the conditions period of the purchase agreement of the house so home buyers can include radon testing in their home inspection process.

Radon does sound scary, and rightly so.  Fortunately, the testing for and mitigation of radon are quite simple. In a future post I will describe the OCRMI inspection process in more detail, as well as the simplified report that will be provided to the client. I will also describe the simple and relatively inexpensive methods of reducing radon levels in your home.

Contact me, Jason Cherry, at Cherry Home Inspections if you have any questions. Until next time, breathe easy.