FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) Radon. It’s invisible. It has no taste or smell, and can reach potentially dangerous levels inside residential housing and commercial structures.
Poster about radon gas at the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.(Karen Simmons/KTVF)
However, according to Jennifer Athey, a geologist with the Department of Natural Resources Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, radon exposure is a preventable health hazard.
“There are lots of things that you can’t really protect yourself and your family from, but radon is not one of those things,” Athey said.
Radon may enter homes through small cracks in slabs, through cinderblock walls, or through holes in your vapor barrier.
“Radon is a radioactive gas, and it is formed in the regular decay chain of uranium in the ground,” Athey said. “Just minute tiny amounts of radon come out of the uranium, in rocks and soils, and then it gets pooled into peoples’ houses.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, radon causes 21,000 deaths per year from lung cancer.
Athey says the when radon gets into your lungs it then further decays into radioactive solids, making radon the second leading cause of lung cancer “…after smoking; but radon and smoking have a cumulative effect. So if you’re a smoker and you have radon, it makes your chances of getting lung cancer ten times greater.”
Sealing the passageways in which radon gas travels is a helpful way to mitigate exposure. Air handling systems and the venting of crawl spaces are very important, Athey says.
According to Art Nash, the energy specialist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, if you haven’t tested for radon in the past five years, retesting is recommended.
Testing for radon is simple and user friendly, but timing is essential. The two charcoal based tests that the Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys offer have to be back to a laboratory within seven to eight days.
For those living off the main road system in Alaska, Athey says the division also offers a long-term radon test kit that can sent to a lab well after a one-week period.
Free radon tests kits are being offered by the Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys in the Denali Building at 3354 College Road while supplies last. They are also short-term radon test kits available through an outreach agreement with the Department of Natural Resources at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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