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The radon raid

When retired Air Force physician Dr. Ralph Hathaway and his wife moved to Falcon Hills in April 2004, they were expecting a quiet retirement.Hathaway had been the sole caregiver of his wife, who had a neurological condition, and he was glad to move into an apartment in the basement of his son’s new home in Falcon and relieved to have the support of both his son and daughter-in-law.Shortly after moving in, Hathaway began waking in the night feeling there was something wrong with the air. “Something bothered me – something was just not right,” he said. He bought an ionic air filter for the furnace, but he said that didn’t seem to help.”Then all of a sudden it came to me: radon,” said Hathaway. As a physician, he was aware of the dangers of this radioactive gas. He bought a simple “tea bag” test kit, which he hung in the apartment for two days and then sent to a lab for analysis. The results revealed a radon level of eight picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). The U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (EPA) recommends that if the results of a short-term test are at 4 pCi/L or above, another test should be done. If those results are still high, the homeowner should consider installing a radon mitigation system.Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas produced by the decay of uranium, which is found in nearly all soils, according to the EPA. However, evaluations of radon potential conducted by the EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey indicate that Colorado and other western states have the highest potential for elevated levels of radon. This is due in part to the significant deposits of granite, which is high in radium, that exist in the West.According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 43.6 percent of homes in Colorado are at concentrations above 4.0 pCi/L.Health risksThe EPA considers radon gas in indoor air a serious health risk. In a January 2005 press release, U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona said, “Indoor radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk.” According to government figures, more than 20,000 Americans die each year of radon-related lung cancer, and elevated levels of radon are found in one out of every 15 homes. The Indoor Radon Abatement Act, passed by Congress in 1988, authorizes funds for radon abatement programs at the state and county level.Radon enters homes through cracks and other holes in the foundation and tends to concentrate in the lower levels of the house, according to the EPA. Levels can be high in both new and older homes. “Seventy percent of all radon tests occur during real estate transactions,” said Doug Kladder, the director of the Center for Environmental Research and Technology Inc. (CERTI), a company that offers courses in radon measurement certification. “A number of builders are now installing abatement systems in new builds to maintain the value of the property,” Kladder said.If high levels of radon are found in a home, the owner has to decide whether to have an abatement system installed. The risk of health problems depends on the actual levels of radon in the home and the length of exposure. Smokers are at a much higher risk. The EPA estimates that a smoker who is exposed to 20 pCi/L of radon over his or her lifetime is more than seven times more likely to get lung cancer than a nonsmoker exposed to the same levels.Inspection and mitigationAfter Hathaway received the results of his radon test, he looked in the Yellow Pages and called a radon mitigation company. “They installed an inexpensive system in my sump pump,” said Hathaway. “In 48 hours, the radon level went from 8 pCi/L to 2pCi/L.” Mitigation systems typically cost from $900 to $2,500, with an average cost of $1,200.Hathaway later discovered the company that installed the abatement system was not certified by a professional radon abatement program. He decided to find out more about the certification process, and discovered that Colorado is home to several organizations that train or certify radon professionals, including CERTI, a private training center for radon inspectors and mitigators. The Western Regional Radon Training Center also offers radon-related courses through the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and the National Environmental Health Association, a professional society for environmental health practitioners, oversees a credential program for radon inspectors.”Colorado has no state regulations requiring radon inspection of homes,” Hathaway said. “But several East coast states do.” However, beginning in January 2005, the city of Fort Collins instituted a mandatory requirement for radon-resistant construction in all new single-family homes.Most homebuyers seem to be unconcerned about the presence of radon. “I’ve found that only about 1 to 2 percent of buyers will choose to have a radon test done,” said Jody Heffner of Platinum Group Realtors. Sellers are required by law to disclose any information they may have about radon levels in their home.Homeowners can use either short-term tests (typically left in the house for two to seven days) or long-term tests (left in the home over 90 days). A professional radon inspector can also conduct the test, usually for a cost of around $125.Hathaway is now certified by NEHA to conduct radon inspections and provide mitigation systems. In February 2005, he attended an EPA conference on radon in Washington, D.C. He now teaches classes to prepare those who want to take NEHA’s National Radon Proficiency Program exam.”My purpose in life is to teach anyone who wants to listen,” he said.

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