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Is the ground beneath you safe?

Snow, severe thunderstorms and fire have plagued Falcon and the rest of El Paso County over the last several years. However, the biggest health and financial risk to homes and businesses could be unseen and unfelt – and coming from the ground beneath residents’ feet.While the Colorado Front Range might not have earthquake threats like the West Coast, and Falcon might not have the landslide risk of the western Highway 24 corridor, there are two major risks many people don’t think about: radon and expansive soils. Hundreds of people are affected by radon gas in homes and businesses, and financial damage from expansive soils nationwide rivals severe weather like tornadoes.Radon gasRadon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that results from the decay of uranium in the soil. ìWe have a lot of uranium in our soils because of the makeup of the Rocky Mountains,î said Chrystine Kelley, radon program coordinator at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. ìAs radon comes into the home, it can cause lung cancer.îRadon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers: ì500 people die annually in Colorado because of radon-induced lung cancer,î Kelley said. ìColorado is ranked seventh in the nation in radon issues.îThe radioactive gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless. Therefore, the only way to determine if the gas is lurking in a home is to have the building tested. ìUniquely to Colorado Springs, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs has its own radon lab, where you can get test kits and take them back for analysis,î Kelley said. ìTest kits are also available inexpensively at home improvement stores or online.îSometimes, homeowners only learn they have a radon issue in their home if a test is performed when they try to sell the house. ìI had a deal go to hell in a hand-basket because the radon test came back at 76,î said Lindsey Mote, real estate agent with Synergy Realty in Colorado Springs. ìApparently, it isn’t unheard of to have radon levels well over 100 in some areas.îThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set an action level of four pCi/L, or picoCuries per liter of air. Reducing the amount of radon in home air from results of 100 pCi/L or more to four requires active mitigation. ìYou don’t just put a fan in the basement; that’s against the rules,î said Douglas Bowen, owner of Pikes Peak Radon. ìThere’s three different applications for mitigation systems: You can connect to the perimeter drain if a house has one, create a sub-slab perimeter system or a sub-membrane depressurization system.îOnce the mitigation system is in place, subsequent testing will show if the installation is working well. ìI did one in Manitou a few months ago that was a 220,î Bowen said. ìBefore that the highest I’d seen was 186. Both of which I was able to mitigate to well below four.îìStatewide, 50 percent of homes test above four pCi/L, and will probably need some kind of mitigation system,î Kelley said. Do the long-term risks warrant the short term expense of installing a mitigation system? ìThe surgeon general says they do,î Bowen said.ìRadon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers,î Kelley said. ìIf tests come back with radon above the action level, we recommend they mitigate.îBowen said he created his website at so people can get an overall idea of radon issues in the area. ìMy biggest thing is to tell the public to be very careful who you use to do a radon mitigation system,î Bowen said. ìI would suggest people do their homework and check out who is going to put the system in.îThe DPHE published many resources and videos about radon in the state at soilsMost Colorado soils have a type of clay in it called bentonite that expands when wet and shrinks when dry. The soil can expand as much as 10 percent with huge amounts of force. Basement walls, foundations and concrete slabs stand little chance against the pressure.More than 50 percent of Colorado’s Front Range communities have some amount of these soils, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s 1989 study of the area.ìThe expansive soils are important because it ends up causing problems between buyers and sellers, if there’s any issues with the foundation,î said Christina Trevino, real estate agent with Patriot Real Estate in Falcon. ìBuyers need to know for sure if the testing was done properly when the house was built.îHome builders and sellers must disclose to buyers whether there is a significant potential for expansive soils on the property at least two weeks before closing, according to Colorado law.If the foundation, basement and soil grading around the house leads to moisture swelling the soils, the damage to the house will likely not be covered by insurance. ìEarth movement is basically never covered under a policy,î said Janet McMonigal of Top Peak Insurance in Falcon. ìSuch things would be similar to earthquakes and landslides ñ- technically outside the house. It’s possible that there are policies with endorsements for those kinds of things, but I haven’t seen one.îProper building design, maintaining the recommended soil slope away from the house and making sure downspout extensions are folded down to guide rainwater away from the basement will help avoid costly damage, McMonigal said.ìUnlike things like earthquakes and landslides back in California, people here can correct or avoid these kinds of threats,î McMonigal said. However, it takes testing, monitoring and maintenance to live with the land, rather than just on it, she said.

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