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By Julie Drake
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | We have some great RNs in our county, but I just learned about a bad Rn. No, not a registered nurse, but the element Radon whose periodic table symbol/abbreviation is Rn.
Radon is a gas found on the far right of the periodic table. It is the heaviest of gases and has a cool atomic number “86” (my son’s football number). It is naturally occurring. We all have breathed this gas, but you would never know. It is odorless and colorless and cannot be detected by any of our human senses. Radon gas is released from gravel, soils and bedrock. It naturally rises out of the ground. It develops from the natural breakdown of the element uranium. Uranium is particularly common in granite and thus areas with high amounts of granite are know to have high radon levels.
If you are primarily outside you breathe very little radon. However if you spend much of your day inside, your exposure is going to be much higher. High concentrations of radon are known to be harmful. Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer (behind smoking). It kills more than home fires, drowning and many other risks. Unfortunately, this risk is poorly understood by most.
All homes have negative pressure—they “suck” in particles from the soils under the structure. Radon is sucked in through any crack, gap or crevice in the foundation, basement, crawlspace, etc. It can even penetrate many typical building materials. Going wild with a caulking gun will not reduce the exposure as we are talking about very small atoms. The only real way to reduce radon coming into your home is to create positive air pressure in your house—so your house “blows” and thus limits migration of the Rn atoms from entering.
Not all homes need a system where positive pressure is created with piping, plastic sheeting and fans. The first step is to test your home to determine the radon level in your home. Test kits are between $10 and $15 from a hardware store and easy to use. We hope to also have some free test kits in our public health offices soon.
If you test your home and it reveals that your home is above the safe level, it doesn’t mean you need to move out or sell your home. The risks accumulate over years. However, it means you need to start the process of reducing your exposure. We can help you understand the results, provide further information, additional testing and connect you to radon mitigation contractors. Again, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Julie Drake is the Director of Public Health
for Rio Blanco County.