Published 5 January 2020
For two weeks straight, Stanley Watras set off the radiation alarms as he entered his workplace at the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant in Pennsylvania. Authorities at the plant were stunned to learn that the source of the radiation was astoundingly high levels of radon gas in the basement of the Watras family home and not from the nuclear plant itself. That was in 1984.
Since then, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Surgeon General have determined that exposure to radon gas is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.
Radon, which has been found in all 50 states, is a naturally occurring radioactive gas released in rock, soil and water caused by the natural decay of uranium. Radon typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into homes through cracks and other holes in the foundation. It can also be introduced in small amounts through well water from private wells. The gas is released into the air when the water is used for showering and other household uses.
The EPA assigns one of three “zones” to each of the 3,142 counties in the U.S., rating the average short-term radon measurement that can be expected in a building without the implementation of radon control methods. Zones are assigned numerical ratings of one, two or three, indicating whether the designated areas are considered to be areas of high (1), moderate (2) or low (3) risk.
According to EPA’s Map of Radon Zones, nearly three-quarters of New Mexico is considered to have “moderate” levels of radon emissions, while just under one-quarter of the state (seven counties in northern New Mexico to be exact) is coded as being at high risk of experiencing radon emissions. Doña Ana County is designated as having moderate levels of radon emissions.
(Source: Environmental Protection Agency)
As part of the EPA’s National Radon Action Month activities, homeowners and prospective purchasers are encouraged to test for radon by conducting an easy and inexpensive do-it-yourself test. The New Mexico Environmental Department has free radon test kits available for people who share their test results with the department and participate in a statewide radon survey. Residents can also purchase test kits for less than $25 at local hardware and home improvement stores. The price of the test typically includes the cost of the mail-in laboratory analysis by an EPA-approved lab.
If elevated radon levels are present, simple abatement solutions for the average home can be employed at a cost of about $800 to $2,500, with $1,200 being the nationwide average, according to the EPA. A popular remedy for preventing the gas from entering the home includes the sealing of cracks and other openings in foundations along with the utilization of a system with pipes and fans called “sub-slab depressurization.” The remedy prevents radon from entering the house by rerouting to the outside atmosphere gasses that would normally radiate into the structure from beneath the slab.
If remedial work is necessary, a list of nationally certified mitigators can be found online at the National Radon Proficiency Program website at www.nrpp.info. If you’re building a new home, radon mitigation systems can be integrated with construction at a nominal cost. Since radon is such a hot topic across the country, there’s plenty of information available on the subject. The booklets “Homebuyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon,” “Reducing Radon Risks,” “A Citizen’s Guide to Radon,” and “Radon, A Physician’s Guide,” are available by phoning EPA’s National Hotline at 800-SOS-RADON (767-7236) or by logging on to www.epa.gov/radon.
To participate in New Mexico’s Indoor Radon Outreach Program, contact NMED Indoor Radon Outreach Coordinator Michael Taylor at 505-476-8608 or Michael.Taylor@state.nm.us. Program details can be found at https://www.env.nm.gov/rcb/indoor-radon-outreach-program/.
See you at closing!
Gary Sandler is a full-time Realtor and president of Gary Sandler Inc., Realtors in Las Cruces. He loves to answer questions and can be reached at 575-642-2292 or Gary@GarySandler.com.