Shopping for a home can become down right exhausting sometimes. This is especially true when inventory is low. In this case, there are too many buyers and not enough homes to purchase. The fun really starts when you find the perfect home, get it under contract and begin the process that leads to closing. There are several inspections, at the cost of the buyer, that can take place prior to closing. One in particular is a Radon inspection/test. Some of you may not be familiar with Radon, so let me explain!
What is it?
Radon is element #86 on the Periodic Table of Elements. Am I bringing back flashbacks of high school chemistry 101? If so, don’t worry, there’s no quiz at the end of this article. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas released in rock, soil and in some cases well water. In short, it’s the radioactive break down of uranium and this occurs everywhere. It’s also a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. Radon levels can build up to dangerous levels even if your home is a brand new construction, sealed effectively, drafty, on a slab, crawlspace or basement. Your home has less pressure inside than the surrounding soil/rocks, so radon can be pulled in through foundation cracks and other openings.
Side Effects & Exposure
Exposure to elevated levels of Radon over an extended period of time has been known to cause cancer. If you do not smoke, Radon exposure is the number one leading cause of lung cancer. If you do smoke, Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States according The Surgeon General. If you smoke in your home and there’s elevated levels of radon, your risk of developing lung cancer increases dramatically. The EPA estimates that radon causes more than 20,000 deaths a year from lung cancer in the U.S.
How is Radon measured?
Now let’s talk about how Radon is measured. Radon is measured in picocuries per liter per air (pCi/L), which is a measure of radioactivity. A Picocurie (pCi) is a measure of the rate of radioactive decay of radon. I’m not a chemist! This is simply the definition! The EPA has set the threshold for Radon levels at 4 pCi/L. According to www.radon.com, “a family whose home has radon levels of 4 pCi/l is exposed to approximately 35 times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would allow if that family was standing next to the fence of a radioactive waste site. At the 4 pCi/l EPA action guideline level, radon carries approximately 1000 times the risk of death as any other EPA carcinogen.” With Radon levels between 2 pCi/L-4 pCi/L it’s highly recommended to consider mitigation. However, any levels of 4 pCi/L and above, mitigation would need to take place with an active or passive system, and then retest. Before you go into panic mode and start wearing a Level A suit to visit homes just know that elevated Radon levels can be mitigated. For those who don’t know what a “Level A” suits is, let me explain! The Level A hazmat suit is the highest level of protection against vapors, gases, mists, and particles. Level A suits consists of a fully encapsulating chemical entry suit with a full-face piece self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). As a firefighter, we have to go through special training and get certified in order to operate around hazardous materials in these suits.
The EPA classifies each county in the country into “Radon Zones.” These zones are classified numerically as Zone 1, 2 & 3. The EPA has classified Greenville County in Zone 1. Zone 1 is classified as Counties with predicted average indoor radon screening levels greater than 4 pCi/L. We have 8 surrounding counties classified in Zone 2, which are counties with predicted average indoor radon screening levels from 2 to 4 pCi/L.
Keep in mind that a Radon test is not mandatory in the state of South Carolina. The decision to have a radon test completed during the inspection period is up to you, the buyer. I hope the information presented will help you make an informed decision to have a radon test completed when purchasing your home.