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RADON&WATER - Things you should be aware of:



Radon in Nature:

Radon gas is produced during the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium, common throughout the Earth. They disintegrate into lighter radioactive elements like radium, polonium and lead. All are heavy metals except for one — radon.

Radon gas slowly oozes from the ground. Radon concentration is measured by the radioactivity it produces (1 Curie is the radioactivity of 1 gram of radium). The average radon level in ambient air is 0.4 pCi/L (picoCuries per liter). Where there are heavy concentrations of rock and ledge - radon may be readily present.

Radon in Homes:

Radon is the heaviest of all gases, eight times heavier than air. It accumulates in basements or on lower floors and then, diffuses throughout the building.

The average radon level in US homes is 1.25 pCi/L. About 1 out of every 15 homes exceeds the "action limit" of 4 pCi/L and nearly 1 out of 6 exceeds the 2 pCi/L "consider action limit".

Having even minimal elevated levels of radon in your home carries a mortality risk three times higher than the risk of dying in a car crash - or the equivalent to smoking 10 cigarettes a day. In fact, if you smoke AND live in a home with elevated levels of radon in the air, your risk of contracting lung cancer can be as high as 10 times greater than living in a home without elevated radon levels.

Radon is a Potent Carcinogen:

Radon gas decays into minute radioactive particles which float in the air we breathe. These particles get trapped in the lungs where they undergo radioactive decay with a half life of 22 years. The radiation damages the DNA of adjacent cells and causes lung cancer. Experts state:

"Radon is the most potent environmental carcinogen to which the general public is exposed." [2000 Report on Carcinogens]

"Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer." [The Surgeon General]

"Radon causes more deaths than home fires, drownings, and airplane crashes combined." [US EPA]

"Radon causes about 21,100 deaths in the U.S. each year." [US EPA & The National Academy of Sciences, 2003 estimate]

Radon is the #1 cause of Lung cancer among non-smokers:

The death of Dana Reeves (age 44), Christopher Reeves' wife, has raised public awareness about radon risks and lung cancer, especially among people who have never smoked, like Dana Reeves. Smoking, radon, and secondhand smoke are the three leading causes of lung cancer - IN THAT ORDER - so radon is a serious health hazard. Although lung cancer can be treated, the survival rate is one of the lowest among cancers. From the time of diagnosis, only 11 to 15 percent of those afflicted will live beyond five years. In many cases lung cancer can be prevented; this is especially true for radon.

Radon Mitigation Methods:

Sub-slab depressurization systems draw concentrated radon gas from beneath the slab and exhaust it above the roof. Their cost varies from $800 to $2,500. They also pull heated or air-conditioned air and EPA estimates that the average operating costs and energy losses are $150/year. Each radon stack emits about 1 Curie per year of the heavy radioactive gas - more than enough to eliminate dangerous levels within homes.

If the basement area of the home has a readily accessible concrete slab, there is now an advanced technology - RadonSeal penetrating concrete sealer which can seal pores deep inside concrete reducing radon penetration through the slab of up to 99%.

Testing for Radon:

In any event, radon is a serious issue and should be monitored by all home owners, especially those situated in zones established by the EPA as being moderate to severe.

The EPA recommends that if you are considering the purchase of a home, that you know what radon levels currently exist in the house. Considering the long-term effects of high levels radon exposure, not testing the house for radon levels in the air and well water is foolish and not forward thinking.

If you're a home buyer, a home seller, or a home owner - having the house tested for radon levels just makes sense.

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Well Water Bacteria:

The EPA, as part of its Enviro Health full environmental inspection, tested water samples from well derived tap water at various locations throughout the United States to see if there was any bacterial growth. Often there was.

In many cases bad bacteria, such as Coliform was present. Total Coliform bacteria are a group of bacteria that are easily cultured and identified. Included in this group of Total Coliform bacteria are the Fecal Coliforms; these bacteria mostly come from warm-blooded animal wastes. One specific subgroup of the Fecal Coliform group is the E. coli group of bacteria. These E. coli are primarily from human wastes and can pose a threat to human health.

Sound scary? It can be. Keep in mind that wells are drilled deep into the ground. In almost every well there is a steel casing, which over time, may have deteriorated or cracked due to ground movement. This is an easy way for contaminates to enter the well water. Buying a home that derives its water from a well? Do some "forward thinking" and have the well water tested!

The follow-up question of course is: If bacteria in water are a concern to you, what do you do about them?


In most cases, well water that is contaminated with Coliform can easily be treated. For Drilled wells deeper than 200 feet, calcium hypochlorite tablets (Chlorine pool tablets) can be used. It is recommended, though, that if your well bacteria test comes back positive with unacceptable levels of Coliform, that you contract with a qualified professional and have them perform the necessary steps to sanitize your well water.

If the bacteria test comes back positive for other bacteria contaminants, in many cases installing and maintaining a water purification unit can solve the problem. Again, a test will determine any potential issues that can be addressed by qualified professionals who specialize in water treatment. The cost of such purification systems are relatively low - and can be easily maintained.

But the most important choice of all, is deciding whether or not to test your water for bacteria. Well water, in particular, is much more readily to have contamination than city water - which regularly treats the water supply prior to having it piped to your home. As previously referenced by the EPA that well water can contain radon and should be tested, bacteria can also be present in many private wells. Black Bear Home Inspections believes the cost of having your well water tested for bacteria is well (no pun intended) worth it when compared to the potential consequences of not testing - especially if you're moving into a new home. If you have any questions about your water - contact the Safe Drinking Water Hotline, toll free at 1-800-426-4791.

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