If you have sold or purchased a home recently, then you are probably aware that radon testing is encouraged but not required. Do you know why? If not, don’t feel bad. Almost half of the homes in Colorado have radon levels higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined require mitigation but few homeowners really know the dangers radon can cause. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers in the United States! Radon is responsible for approximately 500 lung cancer deaths annually in Colorado. It is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas that is produced as uranium breaks down and rises through the soil. It then enters your home through cracks in the foundation, construction joints, drains and drain tiles, sump pumps, or exposed soil. Radon can also be found in water, and private water supplies are prone to have higher concentrations than municipal water supplies.
Colorado is ranked 7th in the nation for radon levels above recommended action level. Since radon is colorless, odorless, and invisible, the only way to know whether you have excessive radon in your home is to test. If you are a smoker your risk of lung cancer is about 7 times the risk of being exposed to radon alone. There is no safe level of radon but as long as radon levels in your home stay below the recommended action level, you are at less risk of developing lung cancer.
Testing can be conducted by a certified radon testing contractor, or you can do it yourself with a DIY test kit purchased online or at a hardware store. For a list of local contractors, how to order low-cost kits, and more information, visit the webpage: https://cdphe.colorado.gov/testing-your-home-radon.
Homes that have test results showing an excessive level of radon will need to have mitigation steps taken to protect the health of you and your family. Radon levels vary widely, not just between states or regions, but even from home to home so you cannot rely on the radon test of a neighbor to know whether your home is safe or needs mitigation.
Radon mitigation means reducing the amount of radon that can access your home, so that includes putting down a barrier in the crawlspace and making sure basement floors and foundations are intact, and there is proper ventilation. This is something that can be done yourself if you have the time, tools, and skills, but a certified mitigation contractor will be able to provide solutions that prevent radon from entering the home and removing radon already present. There are a variety of articles and videos online to guide you through the process, but you don’t want to spend a lot of time and money only to retest and find you haven’t reduced the amount of radon in your home after all, and still need to hire a contractor.
Renters are also at risk of excessive radon in the home or apartment building, however landlords in Colorado are not required to test for or mitigate high radon levels. Most excess radon levels are found below the third floor, but it is possible to have high radon in upper floors. If the landlord has not tested your building, you can test on your own, and if radon levels are high, request in writing that the landlord mitigate in order to keep the property in a safe and fit condition for habitation. The following guide includes helpful information for both renters and building owners: www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2014-08/documents/tenants_guide.pdf.
Radon mitigation can be expensive, however, there are options for which you may qualify. Colorado has a Low Income Radon Mitigation Assistance (LIRMA) program to provide financial assistance to low-income individuals for radon mitigation services. Both homeowners and contractors can apply for this program as well as other grants and programs; the instructions and applications can be found at https://cdphe.colorado.gov/low-income-radon-mitigation-assistance.
There are no widely available medical screenings to see if you have been exposed to high levels of radon. If you think or know you have been exposed, talk to your health care provider about your regular checkups and any screenings to look for signs of lung cancer. Symptoms may include shortness of breath (difficulty breathing), a new or worsening cough, pain or tightness in the chest, hoarseness, or trouble swallowing.
Whether you own or rent your home, it’s in your best interest to get your home tested for radon and understand your risk level. For more information, visit https://cdphe.colorado.gov/radon.