North Dakota is one of only two states in the entire nation that is rated a zone one for radon risk, according to Marcie Bata, director of environmental health at Central Valley Health District. In conjunction with Home Indoor Air Quality Month, state and local health officials are urging North Dakota residents to test their homes for radon and to fix any radon problems that are discovered.
“Each year, (radon) is estimated to cause 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States,” Bata said, adding that in can happen 5 to 25 years after exposure.
Prolonged exposure to radon can cause cancer — lung cancer in particular, so that’s why Bata said it’s so important for residents to check for radon.
A zone one rating means that all the counties in the state have a high potential for elevated levels of radon. There are three zones the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses to rate radon levels.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple has proclaimed October 2012 as Home Indoor Air Quality Month to encourage North Dakotans to learn more about indoor air quality issues, including radon. Radon is a colorless, odorless and tasteless radioactive gas formed when uranium in the soil breaks down.
If the soil must be permeable enough for it to move into a basement or crawl space, it can affect those living in the household.
“It doesn’t have to be cracks” Bata said. Soil can move through passways, plumbing, pumps and by air pressure differences.
“Because you can’t see or smell radon, people tend to ignore the possibility that radon may pose a problem in their homes,” Justin Otto, Indoor Air Quality and Radon Program coordinator with the North Dakota Department of Health said in a news release. “However, radon is a serious health hazard that – once discovered through testing – can be fixed easily.”
Residents can pick up radon test kits at City-County Health District.
The free kits come with instructions that allow residents to set it up themselves.
Angie Martin, office manager at CCHD, said, “If they live in the basement, then they should test in the basement, but if they don’t live in the basement, then they want to test on the first floor.”
Once the test is complete, it should be sent off to a lab for results.
“If they come back with a high reading, we generally suggest they take a second test just to make sure they didn’t get a false test,” Martin said.
If the second test produces positive results, it will then be determined if the home needs to be mitigated. There are different ways of doing that, Bata said, including sealing the foundation for obvious cracks and holes, covering sump pumps and installing radon reduction systems to permanently reduce levels.
These can be installed in new construction or existing construction.
The EPA recommends taking corrective action if you have levels of 4.0 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) or higher. Sixty-three percent of all North Dakota homes test over the action level of 4.0pCi/L.
“It isn’t a problem that’s going to cause you to have to move,” Bata said. “It can be dealt with.”
The North Dakota Department of Health is working on putting up videos on their website that will “let the public decide if they can handle installing radon kits for themselves or bring someone else in,” Bata said, adding that some places are looking at installing them right off the bat of new construction in zone one areas.