Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that you can’t see, smell or taste. It is produced by the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and found in soils worldwide, with some areas having higher concentrations than others. Radon can enter homes through cracks and holes in the foundation. When trapped inside, levels can become elevated. Any home—new, old, well-insulated, drafty, with or without a basement—can have a radon problem.
Radon exposure is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the US after smoking and it is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. When radon is inhaled it can become trapped in the lungs and cause damage by releasing radiation. Over time, exposure to high levels of radon increases a person’s risk of developing lung cancer, a risk that is greatly increased for smokers.
Much of the east side of Portland is in the moderate category for indoor radon risk levels. The classification levels take into consideration four factors: 1) the number of single-family residential locations with a test result, 2) the maximum test result value, 3) the average test value and 4) the percentage of locations with a test result that was greater than or equal to 4 pCi/L within a zip code. The Radon Risk Map, updated earlier this year, can be found at bit.ly/RadonRiskMap.
Regardless of the risk level assigned to your home’s geographic location, the Oregon Radon Awareness Program (ORAP) recommends all homes test for radon, as the level can vary from neighbor to neighbor. Winter is when levels are expected to be the highest, due to windows and doors being closed tight. It is also the best time to test a home.
Radon test kits can be found at most hardware stores and are typically priced $15-$25. The organization Nonprofit Home Inspections also offers a free radon test kit to those that qualify as low/moderate income levels. Those that qualify will receive a test kit with instructions on how to use it and paid postage to return it to the testing laboratory. Results will be sent directly to the person who submitted it; none of the personal information will be shared with any other organization. Visit https://nonprofithomeinspections.org/product/free-radon-test/ to see if you qualify.
If high levels of radon are detected, there are radon mitigation systems, usually effective within 24 hours, that certified companies can provide. A list of companies in Oregon with at least one radon mitigation technician on staff who has been certified by the National Radon Proficiency Program or the National Radon Safety Board is at bit.ly/RadonMitigationCo.
Home radon test kits should not be considered as a substitute for professional testing. Professional companies can also be hired to test your home. Find a listing of qualified testing companies at healthoregon.org/radon.
In addition to reducing radon and the risk of developing lung cancer, mitigation systems address the infiltration of air, which may reduce the humidity level in the basement of a home.