Q&A With Joel Migliaccio of Environmental Works
What is radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium in the soil. Radon is what is called ionizing radiation emitting very destructive alpha particles. These alpha particles destroy sensitive lung tissue and can damage DNA causing cells to become cancerous. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer killing 20,000 Americans each year. It is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Radon only becomes a health issue when it is trapped within homes and buildings. Methods for removing radon from buildings are simple and affordable. The most recommended method for radon mitigation is called sub-soil depressurization. Simply put, the system uses an inline fan and 3-4” pipe to suck the soil gas (and radon) out of the soil under the building.
Why is radon testing important?
The EPA recommends that every home be tested because there is no way of knowing if you have a radon problem unless you test. After thousands of tests each year we have learned the areas of Portland and SW Washington that are “Hot Spots,” but you just cannot tell from one house to the next if radon is present in unhealthy levels. A short term test is always recommended first to get a 2 day snap shot of the radon levels to be sure there is not high radon levels. It is also recommended to follow up with a long term (91 days to 1 year) test like an Alpha Track test, because long term average radon levels are the most accurate representation of your exposure in the home. A short term test requires “Closed House Conditions” to be accurate and the radon levels often fluctuate seasonally, so the best time to short term test is in the cooler seasons when the radon levels are higher.
When should a home get tested?
A home should be tested as soon as possible and particularly in the cool months. When running a long term test you do not have to maintain closed conditions. You can live in the home as you normally would and at the end of the long term test you will have an average based upon many months. Short term charcoal test kits are typically under $15, and long term Alpha Track canisters are about $30. This price included return shipping and lab analysis.
Short term radon testing has become very common in real estate transactions and the preferred method is using a continuous radon monitor (CRM) because you don’t need to wait on your radon test results, you get them immediately upon picking up the radon monitor. This is especially important when there is a 10 day inspection period and you need to figure it out quickly. These short term tests typically cost $150. These tests also come with a nice report printout and hourly radon levels.
What happens if a radon test comes back high?
The EPA recommends mitigation at or above 4.0 pCi/L, whereas the World Health Organization (WHO) has an action level of 2.7 pCi/L. The EPA also recommends that people consider radon mitigation when the levels are between 2-4 pCi/L. During a real estate sale the magic number is typically 4.0 pCi/L, but that is just an industry standard. There is still significant risk for lung cancer with long term exposure at 4.0 pCi/L. The estimates based upon scientific research is that a 15 year exposure, 12 hours per day at 4.0 pCi/L will result in approximately 7 in 1000 lung cancer deaths! When we install our mitigation systems we guarantee them to keep long term average radon levels below the WHO action level of 2.7 pCi/L. This performance guarantee is unconditional for a period of 10 years and transfers to anyone living in the home.
What is mitigation and how much does it cost?
Radon mitigation systems are typically around $1600 in our area and can go up a bit for more elaborate sub-membrane depressurization systems in crawlspace homes. Many basement or slab on grade homes are easily mitigated with a sub-slab depressurization system by drilling a hole through the basement floor, sealing a pipe to that suction point, installing an inline fan to create a vacuum on the soil, and then running the pipe to above the roof line to meet code requirements. These systems, when designed properly by a radon professional are very effective, very quiet and well hidden for aesthetics.
What can be done to reduce radon in the home?
In the Summer months it can help to have fresh air coming in and out of the home, but what about when it gets too hot or too cold out and we shut the windows and turn on the air conditioner or furnace? Fresh air is always a good thing, but it will not solve a radon problem. The best plan is to remove the source via soil depressurization.
What is the accepted level in the air for Portland?
The national average radon levels in the ambient air are about 0.4 pCi/L, or about 1/10th the EPA Action Level. Often times homes with fairly porous soil types can be mitigated to ambient air levels! We have even seen our systems even mitigate the neighbors home next door.
Can you buy a reliable testing kit at the store?
Yes you can, and make sure it is an EPA approved kit. Read the fine print though because often times these store bought kits do not include shipping or the lab cost, so you may pay some hidden fees. The America Lung Association sells radon test kits and www.radon.com is an accredited lab that also sells kits directly to the public.
What is the benefit to using a trained professional versus buying a kit?
Anyone can set up their own radon test according to the instructions and following EPA approved protocol. It is not difficult at all. If you are in a time crunch or just want to make sure it is done by a certified radon professional then you should consider hiring one.
Environmental Works was founded in 2009 by an everyday pair of Environmental Scientists Matthew Lowrance and Joel Migliaccio. It’s the principle of getting the job done right with an unparalleled commitment to service that sets Environmental Works apart from the rest. Since those early days in 2009, when the company was just a two-man operation, they’ve risen to the top of the market. Today they are the number one environmental services company in the Portland Metro area and growing strong. eworksnw.com