20,000+ Lung Cancer Deaths Annually in the United States
I had another radon gas inspection job in Garland recently and a remark by one of the interested parties got me to thinking. This was relayed by a third party, but I believe the statement was something along the lines of: “Texas homes do not have a radon problem” which I know to be patently false as I have found homes that tested beyond the EPA action limit of 4 picoCuries/liter including MINE. (I have measured 4.9 – 8.0 pCi/L in the Lake Highlands area which is equal to a pack of cigarettes a day) I have also personally been to several residences that had radon mitigation systems in place, and when they were turned off, the levels went back into the danger zone.
So how do myths and misinformation like this get perpetuated? Radon is a more common issue in other parts of the United States and tends to be more detectable in homes with basements, (as radon is heavier than air) but it is common enough in the North Texas region to be worth checking as a part of indoor air quality testing in Dallas and Fort Worth.
The number of homes in the Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties exceed the EPA action limit 5 – 10 % of the time which IS statistically significant; up to 1 out of 10 homes. Furthermore if you add in the number of homes which are marginal (2.0 – 3.9 picoCuries/Liter) as radon gas concentrations vary throughout the day, year, etc. then the number of potentially affected homes in North Texas is closer to 16 – 24 %.
Also, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a lower limit than the EPA with the mitigation safety limit set at 2.7 pCi/L versus the higher limit of 4.0 pCi/L by the Environmental Protection Agency. And there is NO SAFE LIMIT of radon gas, any amount is bad, but you can’t get away from it entirely as even outdoor levels are typically 0.3 pCi/L and average indoor is 1.1 – 1.3 pCi/L.
So how dangerous is radon gas? Here is a quick risk comparison by the EPA:
This graph shows only 15,000 deaths annually, (the lower number is because the stats are derived from 1986 data quoted by Environmental Science Technology Vol 24 pp. 774 – 1990) but a more recent EPA report (2014) shows closer to an estimated 20,000+ lung cancer deaths annually due to radon – 2nd only to smoking in direct cause – which is actually higher than the fatalities caused by drunk driving in which a great deal of energy has been focused on in recent years.
The problem with radon gas is that it is invisible, silent, and much harder to track than the erratic, weaving driving patterns of an inebriated driver. Couple this with a mythologies like: “Texas homes don’t have radon” or “You need to have a basement for radon to be an issue” and this becomes a significantly overlooked risk and safety factor that is relatively easy to test for and not necessarily that expensive to correct.
How does radon gas do it’s damage? By the emission of inhaled alpha particles that get into the lungs and whose ionizing radiation damages cell DNA. This mechanism works by attacking DNA molecules within the cells to form free radical ions, or changes the molecules themselves into excited molecules that can form biochemical pathways to cancer.
So even if your home has no basement (very few residences in Texas do) then why be concerned? Because the gas can still seep in through cracks in the foundation or gaps in a pier and beam construction. (you don’t need a basement to have a radon issue)
The solution is to first retest to make sure that the radon levels are consistently high enough to warrant attention and if so, proper ventilation is designed and installed by a professional radon mitigator, and then the residence retested to make sure that the system is working. Incidentally, ScanTech does no mitigation as we consider it a potential conflict of interest.
But for a prospective homeowner who is interested in a property, it is important to get the radon checked as soon as possible once you are inside the option period. The reason why is because of the time delays in deploying the kits, waiting the 48 – 96 hours for the kits to develop, transit time to the lab and the radon lab processing / reporting time. This means a dead minimum of 4 days under IDEAL circumstances with rush fees and hand trucking the kits in to the lab. Otherwise, it can take up to over a week which can easily exceed the standard 10 day option period.
ScanTech does have the ability to check the radon levels with a special digital tester that can get results much more quickly (in as little as 1 – 2 days after deployment) with the same level of accuracy as the activated charcoal radon test kits described above and it is less expensive when comparing a return trip to retrieve the device and interpret the results versus a return trip for the charcoal kits.
The charcoal kit route is more feasible if the testing is not as time sensitive and/or the client is willing to either mail or hand carry the kits into the radon testing lab itself located in Dallas County.