Radon risks - How concerned should you be?

Beautiful home, but how can you tell if the soil it's built on is emitting hazardous radon gas ? CR photo

Radon is an odorless, invisible gas that occurs naturally in rocks and soil. It's the result of the radioactive decay of a natural element called radium.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, radon is the single largest source of radiation for most residents of Washington and is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

But radon-related deaths are due to exposure over the course of a lifetime.

You should definitely take radon seriously if it's present in your home. But that doesn't mean you should walk away from a home you're considering for purchase because of radon fears.

In Washington state, home inspections typically do not include testing for radon gas. But if you live in a county that's known to have pockets of high radon level, you can test for radon yourself.

Researchers at Consumer Reports point out, it’s actually pretty easy to remove radon, and it’s not that expensive.

While the safest level of radon is zero, the EPA says you should be concerned if the radon level indoors is 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) or higher.

For good home test kits, Consumer Reports recommends the $23 RTCA 4Pass, which will get you results in a week or less. For a better representation- with a test of at least 90 days, CR recommends the $25 Accustar Alpha.

If test levels read between 2 and 4 picocuries per liter, consider fixing the home. Consumer Reports' experts say for about $1,200, you can remove radon by installing a pipe that vents the gas from the soil out through the roof.

If the home involved is one you're thinking about buying, you can always use the expense of fixing the radon problem as a bargaining chip.

Be aware, that in some states home sellers may be required by law to disclose the radon test results to other potential buyers on a seller’s disclosure form.

According to the most recent radon tests conducted by the Washington state Department of Health, most areas of King, Pierce, Kitsap, Snohomish and Island counties have very low levels of radon, although test do show some radon levels that exceed the limit of 4 pCi/L.

By contrast, state tests reveal a much greater percentage of excessive radon levels in Klickitat, Clark, Spokane and other counties across the state. You can check the 2016 radon test level results for your county, on the state's Washington Tracking Network.

The state's tracking website is not the most user friendly when it comes to navigation. I found the county- by-county radon results by using the search tool in the left hand margin titled "Selection Criteria". Don't bother with the key word search. Just make sure the "Section" tab is on environment , the "Topics" space should say Radon, the "Sub Topic" should be Radon Test Results, the "Measure should also read Radon Test Results, and in the "Filters" space- hit the menu tab under "Geography" and find County. The year should be 2016.

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