By Art Nash
Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas, which is naturally given off by decaying uranium. It is also the second leading cause of lung cancer.
The Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State of Alaska see radon as a public environmental health concern but as an indoor air quality concern. In other words, there may be large quantities of radon gas emitted in the parking lot at work, driveway at home or even public parks. But the risk of contracting lung cancer as a result of inhaling radon comes from breathing concentrated levels of radon in a contained environment.
Many municipalities in other states require radon testing of indoor air just prior to a home sale or just after a newly built home is completed. No area in Alaska requires radon tests or forces a homeowner to fix the situation once high levels are found in a dwelling.
There is a safeguard you can put into place, however, if you plan to build a home or cabin yourself this summer or with the help of a builder. You can build radon out. “Building radon out” is also referred to as building radon-resistant housing. These are the terms used among housing contractors who put backup systems into newly constructed dwellings. If a radon problem is found, a simple fan can be added with a couple sticks of PVC pipe to mitigate any high levels of radon gas concentration.
A few years back, I hired the Cold Climate Housing Research Center to produce two videos for Extension on building radon-resistant housing. A five-minute video, “Radon Mitigation in New Construction,” was developed for individuals who may not know much about building. The other video, “Radon Mitigation in Super-Insulated Slab,” lasts 12 minutes and includes details a contractor would need to know when prepping the foundation of a home. These YouTube videos can be viewed respectively at https://youtu.be/zwz4yPgv3XA and https://youtu.be/3EOt-iyk5MA. “A Radon Overview” is helpful for homeowners who have already been in their home for a while. It can be viewed at https://youtu.be/pytSqj4eHfs.
Alaska data from various kinds of radon testing indicate that many homes throughout Alaska have radon gas concentration test results that are greater than the EPA’s “action level” of four picocuries of radon gas concentration in one liter of room air.
Interior Alaska testing, particularly in Fairbanks, Delta Junction and Healy, has showed the highest concentrations of radon. The Alaska Division of Public Health recommends that all Alaska residents should test their homes for radon, as its cause, uranium, is present throughout the state. If you have any other questions about radon, call the Alaska Radon Hotline at 1-800-478-8324. And remember — the only way you’ll know if you have a radon radioactivity problem in your home is to test.
Art Nash is the Extension energy and radon specialist for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at (907)474-6366 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.