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Greg Johns WIN Cookeville

National Radon Action Month


NRAM -- It's Not Just A Fancy Acronym 

Radon. January is National Radon Action Month. Not exclusively this January. Every January. It remains an on-going push to make citizens aware of the presence and potential danger of radon. Like cholesterol, you don’t really know how you have it until you test for it. And, yes, I said “how.” The data available, albeit oldish, indicates every one of our homes, rental properties, schools, offices, and grocery stores has some amount of radon concentration present. Like I tell my son regarding schoolwork, it’s the concentration that makes all the difference.

Now, if you have never had the pleasure of meeting a radioactive gas – well, you are in good company since we can’t see it, taste it, touch it, smell it. And, as far as we know, our dogs and cats don’t notice it either, or perhaps they choose to not tell us. But, radon as a radioactive gas is there. And there. And there. And even outside, though exterior concentrations are thought to not be an issue as amounts are generally well below 1.0 pCi/L (picocuries of radon per liter of air – if you live anywhere else than the U.S., becquerels are the chosen measuring stick…and, yes, there is a conversion rate).

This IS Serious

I realize my tone is less than serious but make no mistake – the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers is serious. 21,000 deaths (estimated) each year is serious. Being labeled as a Category A carcinogen by the EPA is serious. It’s serious street cred. for radon and serious for us humans with cellular tissues (if you happen to be a human sans cellular tissues, I’ll try and keep an open mind…). Radon is real – did I tell you all the story of the well-known engineer in my market who told a client (with me present) radon wasn’t real?!? True story. Another time perhaps.

Okay. So. Radon is real. Radon can be detected via testing. Testing can be performed by you the homeowner, your neighbor, a housing professional, an industry expert, and in states like Tennessee, well-trained walruses. Testing equipment can be acquired from the state, from online, from some local retailers, from housing professionals, from industry experts, and in states like Tennessee, well-known engineers and real estate professionals who know more than trained scientists. I’m not bitter, just incredulous.

The issue is that just anyone testing for radon would be like just anyone teaching your kid about religion, gun control, or geometry. We have enough odd angles in this world – no one wants that. Or, like just anyone teaching you how to skydive. You with me now?

What We Should Be Demanding

What we need as a consumer base is quality control and quality assurance. And how do we get that? We set standards of education, of practice, of professionalism. Enter AARST and NRPP and NRSB. We mandate certification for those who want to test (fewer than half our states require such certification – online data claims TN requires it, but trust me, TN does NOT…unfortunately). We set similar standards for equipment used and procedures for accurate testing and management of testing equipment. Which means – homeowner tests, neighbor tests, and poorly trained professionals tests should not be viewed as the ideal solution; it’s like taking your child to McDonald’s because she has a sore throat…I mean, maybe the person helping you will be in med school. Plus, you get fries and a shake.

The other important component to understand here is that radon is not difficult (in most scenarios) to mitigate AND is preventatively mitigated in new construction in many jurisdictions already (but, not nearly enough). However, testing is key, as is disclosure. If accurate testing does not occur, and said information is not provided to concerned parties, no good comes from any of it. And, believe it or not, there are fewer than two handfuls of states that require any sort of radon disclosure to renters (please read: landlords are not required to test and make sure their buildings for which they are charging borderline mortgage rates are safe for the people who move into them). And that’s crazy. The same is true for most public schools and municipal buildings.

Let's Talk Home Inspectors For a Moment

Now, on a more skewed perspective – I also think we’ve been slowly poisoning our residential home professionals (home inspectors) without any care or concern. Did you know I have no retirement package when I retire? The state gives me nothing. So, if I contract lung cancer from prolonged elevated dose exposure over the duration of my inspecting career (beyond 11 years now), I’m on my own for medical care. An average inspection takes me 3.5 hours at $425. I don’t think you could pay me enough $425s to make up for getting sick from interior environmental quality. And yet, people want to haggle the price of an inspection.

Scientifically speaking, when radon decays at half-life, it releases alpha particles (as does radon’s progeny) and these high-energy particles are what get embedded in lung tissues and disrupt our cellular processes increasing cancer-potential. Well, these high-energy particles are too large to pass through most materials, so they “plate out” when they come into contact (meaning they become harmless for the most part). I have adopted a practice in recent years of wearing face masks (entirely unrelated to our lovely pandemic that shall not be named) in order to improve my odds of NOT inhaling said alpha particles. I’m hoping that more of them plate out on my face mask. It’s simple science with absolutely no data or studies to back it up. But, there is nothing out there for my industry to help us be safe against radon exposure. And, even though any one dose may not be an issue, prolonged and constant dosing over many years definitely increases the risk of developing lung disease. If any of you know of dose packs/monitors that are readily available for home inspectors, let me know.

So What?

The moral of the story is test for radon and talk to a family member and one friend about testing for radon. If you test and it comes back high, ask for the data. If you test and it comes back low, ask for the data. If you mitigate for radon, have it tested post-mitigation and every 2 years afterward (also, consider having the system reviewed by someone who is certified for doing so [pick me, pick me] ). If you live in anything but a tent or tree house, have it tested. Then test it again in 2-3 years. Like our school systems tell us about the competency of our children – it isn’t worth a flip if you aren’t testing. Except for radon, there really is no controversy for always testing. Because, now all of us can have consumer grade radon monitors in our homes (search for it, people – there are many readily available). And remember, January is National Radon Action Month.