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Is Radon Lurking in Your Home?

About Radon Gas in Reno & Lake Tahoe Homes and Buildings

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radonmap-nevada.jpg

Radon hazard map of Nevada.

Image courtesy Nevada Radon Education Program

At high enough levels, radon in your Reno / Tahoe area home or place of business can be a serious health hazard. This is of particular concern during winter when houses are buttoned up against the chill for long periods of time. This article will help you learn about radon in the Reno region and outline various ways to deal with this cancer-causing agent.

Learn about Radon during Radon Action Month

January is National Radon Action Month. For more information, you can attend a free presentation during January at a branch of the Washoe County Library. Free test kits will be offered at these presentations and through February 28, 2014, at the Nevada Radon Education Program (NREP), 4955 Energy Way, Reno, NV 89502. The program phone number is (888) 723-6610.

  • Thursday, January 2 - 6 p.m., Washoe County UNCE office, 4955 Energy Way, Reno.
  • Tuesday, January 7 - 6 p.m., Spanish Springs Library, 7100A Pyramid Lake Highway, Sparks.
  • Wednesday, January 8 - 5 p.m., Northwest Reno Library, 2325 Robb Drive, Reno.
  • Thursday, January 9 - 3:30 p.m., Sierra View Library, 4001 S. Virginia Street, Reno.
  • Saturday, January 11 - 11 a.m., North Valleys Library, 1075 N. Hills Boulevard #340, Reno.
  • Wednesday, January 22 - 6 p.m., South Valleys Library, 15650A Wedge Parkway, Reno.
  • Tuesday, January 28 - 6 p.m., UC Davis / Tahoe Environmental Research Center, 291 Country Club Drive, Incline Village.
There will be more presentations at various locations around Nevada. For locations, dates, and times, refer to the Nevada Radon Education Program calendar of presentations.

What Is Radon?

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It is odorless, colorless, and tasteless. Radon is produced by the breakdown of uranium in rocks, soil, and water. While it is found throughout the United States, radon is more prevalent is some areas, including many regions of Nevada. Radon that emerges into the atmosphere is dispersed and poses virtually no risk. However, when concentrated in homes and other buildings, radon can be a serious problem - it is widely thought to be a leading cause of lung cancer, second only to smoking. According to U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona (2005), "Indoor radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the country. It's important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques."

How Prevalent is Radon in the Reno / Tahoe Region?

With our granitic soil, radon in the Reno / Lake Tahoe region is present in higher concentrations than many other areas of the United States. Our average is 2 to 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter of air), with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommending homes be repaired if the radon measurement falls in this range. Of course, what happens to be in your home or building depends on numerous factors, which is why a test for radon should be performed to assess the situation before attempting to fix a problem. Any home in the Reno / Lake Tahoe area should be suspect, but you can't tell without testing.

A 2009 report by the California Geological Survey reported that about 40% of homes on the California side of Lake Tahoe have elevated radon levels. Another 2009 study, by the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, found that nearly 60% of homes in Stateline, Glenbrook, and Zephyr Cove on the Nevada side have high radon levels.

These maps from the Nevada Radon Education Program show radon testing results in the whole state, in regions of the state, and in individual counties.

How Does Radon Enter Homes?

As natural uranium in the ground decays, the resulting radon enters the atmosphere mainly through cracks and other weak points in the soil and rock structure. Every home and building built on or close to the ground is therefore subject to radon exposure. It can enter through cracks in slab foundations, from the soil beneath houses with crawl spaces, through gaps around pipes and electrical fixtures, and from cracks in walls. In some cases, well water brings this unwanted guest inside. Certain building materials, such as granite, may also emit radon.

Testing Your Home for Radon

Testing is the only way to know if your home is radon risky. Below is a summary, but you can get complete details on radon testing in northern Nevada from Radon Measurement / Radon Testing, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

Short-Term Testing - The place to start is with a short-term test (from 2 to 90 days). This should be done first so you quickly find out if there is a problem rather than waiting months for long-term test results, meanwhile being possibly exposed to unhealthful radon levels. You can obtain low cost test kits from University of Nevada Cooperative Extension offices or by calling (888) 723-6610. The kits are free in some areas of Nevada until June 30, 2014. Otherwise, kits are $6.75 each (plus shipping and handling unless you pick it up in person). Get the details from the UNCE "Where to Get a Radon Test Kit" information. If your short-term test result indicates elevated radon levels (between 4 and 8 pCi/L), a full year, long-term test is recommended.

Long-Term Testing - Long-term radon tests are run from 3 to 12 months. These tests take into account seasonal variations and give homeowners a better picture of their overall exposure. If radon is indeed a problem, you should take steps to get it under control. Long-term test kits are available for $15 from UNCE. You can use this online coupon to order a kit through the mail.

Hiring a Testing Service

A number of Nevada companies provide certified radon testing services. To find one near you, refer to the Nevada Radon Measurement Providers List. These providers are certified by the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) and the National Radon Safety Board (NRSB).

Fixing a Radon Problem in Your Home

The ideal fix is a radon mitigation system installed by a certified radon mitigation contractor. Because remodeling type work is likely to be involved, make sure the contractor is also a Nevada State Contractors Board licensee.

Help is also available for homeowners who want to tackle the job themselves. The Nevada State Health Division has distributed to every public library in Nevada, a copy of "Protecting Your Home From Radon," Second Edition, by D. L. Kladder with Dr. J. F. Burkhart and S. R. Jelinek (ISBN 0-9639434-0-5), which is designed for the do - it - yourselfer. You can purchase a copy of this book for yourself with an online coupon provided by the UNCE Nevada Radon Education Program.

Detailed information about repairs to fix a radon problem are beyond the scope of this article. A good place to start is "How to Fix a Radon Problem / Radon Mitigation" by UNR Cooperative Extension. Another excellent source is Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Radon Testing for Real Estate Transactions

Since there are no laws or regulations concerning radon in Nevada, radon testing during real estate transactions is not likely unless the buyer has been educated and requests it. When buying a house, protect yourself and your family by requesting that a radon test be part of the home inspection process. The Nevada Radon Education Program recommends using a professional testing service when buying real estate, as this protects your interests by providing independent, third-party results from someone not involved in the transaction. Many of the radon testing service providers are also home inspectors and the price of radon testing may be discounted if a certified radon tester is also used for the home inspection.

Sources: University of Nevada Cooperative Extension - Nevada Radon Education Program, United States Environmental Protection Agency, KOLOTV.com, About.com websites. Assistance in preparing this article was provided by Susan H. Howe, Program Director, Nevada Radon Education Program.

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