September, 2015
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



On My Mind

ALDEN E. GIBSON

Why Radon Testing Makes Good Sense

In April, I attended the conference of the Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (CARST) in Vancouver, British Columbia. The presence of radon in Canada had not been addressed as a concern until late 2007 when the Canadian government lowered the tolerances in Canada from 800 Bq/m3 (21.6 pCi/L) to 200 Bq/m3 (5.4 pCi/L). At that time, I became a member of the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) and a Residential Measurement Provider through the National Radon Proficiency Program (NRPP). I obtained equipment to perform short-term tests for radon in residential homes. I know many of my colleagues in the United States perform radon testing along with home inspections and have been doing so for more than 20 years. Radon testing fits in naturally with the home inspection.

For anyone unfamiliar with radon, radon is a gas formed by the breakdown of uranium, a natural radioactive material found in all soil and rock. Long-term exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking and is the leading cause of lung cancer in people who have never smoked.

In short, the radiation produced by radon causes damage to our DNA. Our DNA is packaged carefully, wrapped around packaging proteins to form chromatin, which keeps DNA generally stable and amenable for use by the cells. When we breathe in radon, we also breathe in two radon byproducts—polonium 218 and polonium 214—that are produced from decay and are especially troublesome. These two particles release a high-energy particle called an alpha particle. When alpha particles come into contact with our lung tissue at a certain time, their decomposition can cause damage to our lungs. Ultraviolet (UV) light, metabolism, inflammation, air pollution, smoking and ionizing radiation can damage DNA. When DNA is damaged, our cells usually repair it correctly. However, errors may occur that can cause genetic mutations, which, in turn, can result in cancer. Any exposure to radiation can be harmful to our health. Being exposed to high amounts of radiation can result in mutation or death. Increased exposure to radon can increase a person’s chances of getting lung cancer. Radon is everywhere, and we breathe it in and out of our lungs.

Currently, the only recognized hazard from breathing in the decaying products of radon (polonium 218 and polonium 214) is an increased potential of developing lung cancer. No other health effects have been traced directly to radon.

As home inspectors, we can offer a simple, short-term test to determine the amount of radon in the house at that particular time. If the levels are higher than the recommended minimum government standards, the home inspector can recommend either that a long-term test be done to obtain a more accurate reading or that remediation be performed.

If you currently test homes for radon or if you plan on doing radon testing in the future, I recommend that you become certified for the use of passive measurement devices through NEHA if you live in the United States, or certified through the Canadian–National Radon Proficiency Program (C-NRPP) as a Residential Measurement Provider if you live in Canada. In addition, being a member of either of these organizations can only enhance your credibility and protect your reputation when you perform the radon testing according to the proper inspection protocols.

To find out more about radon, visit the websites of the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (AARST, www.aarst.org) and the Canadian–National Radon Proficiency Program (C-NRPP, www.c-nrpp.ca). To become a qualified Residential Measurement Provider in the United States, visit www.nrpp.info, or if you live in Canada, visit www.carst.ca.

Currently, home inspectors routinely check homes for smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Testing the level of radon in homes makes sense as well.