Date Published: 10/07/2009 [Source]
If you've never had your house checked for radon — a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can leak into buildings from the soil — you might want to consider it. Long linked to increased risks for lung cancer, the World Health Organization (WHO) now believes the stuff may be more dangerous than previously thought.
Jim Wiederholt, the city's municipal code enforcement officer, agreed that there are instances of excessively high radon in Maryville, but also noted that the gas is found in all 50 states, is easy to test for and fairly easy to mitigate.
"Nodaway County is in the high radon potential zone, and if someone has a concern about radon, which of course is odorless and colorless, they should have their house tested," Wiederholt said. "The gas seeps into basements through cracks and holes. Fortunately it's fairly easy to get rid of." In an advisory late last month, WHO lowered its maximum safe radon threshold from 4 pico-curies per liter of air (pCi/L) to 2.7 pico-curies per liter. If that sounds like it's not a lot, it isn't. The nuclei of radioactive elements emit particles, and each event in which a particle is emitted is called a decay. A curie is unit of radioactive decay, and a pico-curie is a trillionth of a curie.
So why are such minute amounts of gas so dangerous? Because, according to WHO and other major health organizations, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking and causes approximately 20,000 deaths in the United States each year.
Recent studies, stated the WHO advisory, confirm that health risks from radon occur at much lower levels of contamination than previously thought. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has so far kept its danger threshold at 4 pCi/L, though it recommends that homeowners take action for levels above 2 pCi/L.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services provides state residents with free radon testing kits. Information about this service is available online at www.dhss.mo.gov/radon or by calling (866) 628-9891. Testing, conducted by either the homeowner or a certified technician, is generally required before a home can be sold.
Romer said radon test kits, which can also be purchased at hardware stores, are quite effective if homeowners follow the directions. The best place to test, he said, is the lowest livable area in the house about two feet from an outside wall and away from furnace vents, registers or other ventilation. Essentially the kit is a packet of charcoal that picks up radioactive particles. Several days after activation, homeowners send the kit to an EPA-approved lab for analysis.