You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. And you can live in blissful ignorance that nothing unhealthy is going on in your house. But the truth is, many Coloradans who live long-term in their homes, are at grave risk for it.
Working in a mining museum, I’m well aware of the mining history of our area, it’s part of what helped create these mountain communities, and created the scenic byways that allow us to enjoy the beauty and grandeur of the Rocky Mountains.
But the valuable minerals carry a deadly risk. Uranium is present in much of the bedrock that makes up these mountains, and when uranium breaks down it emits a gas known as radon. Because of mining in the area, health officials of the CDC were able to understand how inhaling radon affected people’s long-term health. And they found that miners, especially those who smoked were at a much greater risk for lung cancer.
In fact, inhaling radon puts non-smokers at a much greater risk of getting lung cancer over many years. The EPA has put a threshold on where the risk of radon exposure can affect your health, even though of course any radon can be bad for you. To this end, the US EPA has set an action level of 4 pCi/L. Above this level, they recommend taking mitigation measures.
When we bought our home, our realtor must have been greedy for the sale, as she casually said, “Oh, radon is not a problem up here.” Moving from out of state, we were naive and trusted her at her word. After learning mining history, I knew radon was absolutely a problem up here. The State of Colorado estimates that over half the homes in the state have unacceptable levels of radon.
So we bought a home radon kit and ran the tests during a 3-day trip we recently took. The results are not good. They recommend you test on the lowest living level. In other words, don’t put it in your crawl space if you don’t spend time there, but do put in your basement if you do your laundry there. We tested on the bottom floor of our living space where our great room and kitchen are.
Our test came out to 26.3, meaning our chances of getting lung cancer are 4% greater than other non-smokers. That may not seem a lot, but why put yourself at the increased risk when you don’t have to?
There is a lot of controversy over whether the risk is all that great, and a house that is completely sealed up is at the greatest risk. Considering that a good 5 months of the year, we have our windows open, the risk is lessened with greater air flow.
I’m sure there are many in our neighborhood who are either unaware of the risks, or choose to ignore it, disputing the science and the EPA recommendations. But did you know as of 2012, a radon disclosure is required as part of all real estate transactions?
So the reality is this. If you have a radon problem, it will most certainly be revealed when you try to sell your house. And you can be sure, the people wanting to purchase your home will probably not be so forgiving of the potential risks, and you will be forced into doing mitigation.
So why not test now, remediate the problem, knowing you’ve done what you can to keep your home and family healthy? And when you sell your home, you can reassure potential buyers that you’ve done the same.
I love living in the mountains, but part of why we bought our home here was to lead a healthy life, one filled with recreation and low stress. I’d hate to think something I can’t even see could take that away from me prematurely.