Radon High in Park County

by Lyn Hayden

This article originally appeared in the Fairplay Flume.

You or your neighbor in Park County could be sitting on a hot spot of radon gas and ultimately die from lung cancer.

At least that was the message from Kurt Jones, County Extension Director of Chaffee and Park counties, at a Jan. 29 presentation in Bailey.

Fifty-two of Colorado’s 64 counties are at high risk for radon gas, and Park County is one of the hot zones, known as “zone 1,” in Colorado.

Radon, which occurs naturally from the decay of uranium, is the number-one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers in America, with cigarette smoking being the number-one cause of lung cancer among the smoking population, according to U.S. Surgeon General Kenneth Moritsugu.

Radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year and, among those, approximately 2,900 occur among people who have never smoked, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Jones’s presentation to about 15 people at Bailey Fire Station No. 2 covered the effects that radon gas can have on health, how to test for it in your home, and how to mitigate it.  January was National Radon Action Month, and because of a U.S. EPA grant, Jones was able to provide free radon test kits to Monday’s meeting participants.

Hot zones

Since Park County has a zone 1 ranking, it’s helpful to look at that ranking in detail.

Zone 1 has a high radon potential, with a probable indoor radon average of 4 pCi/L (four picocuries per liter of air). No levels of radon is safe, but the Environmental Protection Agency has established 4 pCi/L and above as the set point to take action to mitigate a home.

In other words, the probable average in zone 1 Park County is the same level as the level set by the EPA to start taking mitigation action.

Smoking one-fourth of a pack of cigarettes per day equals about the same as 4 pCi/L of radon entering a person’s lungs.

One picocurie is a trillionth of a Curie, and 1 pCi/L means 2.2 radioactive disintegrations per minute. So 4 pC/L translates to 12,672 radioactive disintegrations in one liter of air during a 24-hour period.

The U.S. EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey have gathered information to assist national, state, and local organizations to target their resources and assist building code officials in deciding whether radon-resistant features are applicable in new construction. For more information go to www.epa.gov/radon.

Radon

What is radon?

Radon is an invisible, tasteless, and odorless radioactive gas that seeps into homes from underground. It is caused by the decay of uranium, which is plentiful in the Rocky Mountain states and is widely found in trace amounts in rocks and soil.  Uranium first decomposes to radium and then into radon.

Radon migrates from underground and into adjacent buildings through cracks or. small openings in foundations and around utility pipes. It then becomes trapped and concentrates in the lower levels of buildings and homes.

Mitigating your home

The most common type of radon mitigation system is called sub-slab depressurization, which can make a home virtually radon free. PVC pipe is brought up through the house, from below the slab foundation, and is taken to the outside of the house through the ceiling. With a fan, a suction is created to pull the gases out from under the home and up out into the atmosphere.

Radon resistant designs are now being used in new homes. To learn more about those features, obtain a copy of U.S. EPA’s booklet, Building Radon Out.

Testing

Tests should be taken in Park County-area homes every couple of years, said Jones. Radon can be found in water although, from what Jones has found around here, he is not as concerned about radon in the water as he is about radon in the air,

Jones has more free radon air test kits available for the public, and he said he will also check into radon water-testing kits. He can be reached at 719-539-6447 or via e-mail at kjones@coop.ext.colostate.edu.

Test kits are also available for $7 from the National Safety Council. For a coupon, go to www.cdphe.state.co.us or call 1-800-846-3986, the state’s year-round radon hotline. Kits are also sold at hardware stores for approximately $25-$35.