January is Radon Action Month; test your home for the colorless, odorless gas | VailDaily.com

January is Radon Action Month; test your home for the colorless, odorless gas

Kirsten Dobroth
Special to the Daily

If you've bought a home recently, then you may have been asked around the time of the inspection if you wanted to test for radon. And if you haven't bought a home recently, then you may or may not have heard of radon and why people around the county — and the state and country — test for it.

Local energy, environmental and health organizations are joining forces to get the word out about testing for radon as a means to improve public health and safety and advocate for energy efficiency.

What is radon?

Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas caused by the breakdown of uranium in the soil. It's odorless, colorless, extremely prevalent around the state of Colorado and is the second leading cause of lung cancer, according to data compiled by both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Radon is a dense gas, so it tends to creep into lower areas of the home — basements and crawlspaces — and while these might not be the spots where household members congregate, the accumulation of radon throughout time can still have a toxic effect on in-home air quality.

"Since it's a soil gas, it exists naturally in the outdoor air, but the reason that it can be a problem in homes is that it tends to accumulate," said Ray Merry, director of Eagle County's Environmental Health Department, "A number of people who have done remodel projects have tested for radon before and after their remodels and found that it's actually worse afterwards."

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It's difficult to say which structures will have problems with radon; there's really no way to know whether the spot where a foundation sits will see higher levels of the gas, and building design and home efficiency can be another aspect of construction that might lead to the gas being trapped inside the building. January is an ideal time to test for the gas, as windows and doors typically remain shut, and the test gives a more comprehensive view of what air quality is like inside a home.

Mitigating the problem

The fix is rather simple. Get a radon test to see if your home is above the advised threshold for radon gas (4 picocuries per liter or higher), and if so, then have an active mitigation system installed — essentially a pipe from a lower level of the home with a fan that blows the gas outside.

Some building codes in Eagle County regulate that homes must be built with a passive mitigation system — a pipe from a lower building level — that makes it even easier to lessen high levels of household radon if they're detected.

In Eagle County, the process of getting a radon test, mitigating the gas and making other home-efficiency improvements has been leading the state, as the test is free, and the fix often comes with rebates and other financial incentives to provide homes with active mitigation systems and other energy-saving fixes, which promote building sustainability and long-term financial savings.

The inclusion of radon in this type of program is one that's making the process of home testing more affordable and has been a progression in the industry to combine elements of home energy sustainability with aspects of health and safety.

"In the past couple of years, we've seen a shift in the energy-efficiency industry of instead of just looking at one off things, like replace your light bulbs or add insulation, we're taking a much more holistic look at buildings in general," said John-Ryan Lockman, of Energy Smart Colorado.

Energy improvements go hand in hand with radon mitigation, as often times, fixes aimed at improving household sustainability help with airflow and indoor air quality. Lockman has spearheaded Eagle County's system of streamlining tests to residents, suggesting radon fixes when necessary, offering financial incentives to disperse the gas and offering home energy audits as part of the program.

While rebates and financial incentives are available nationwide for home energy efficiency improvements, Eagle County is one of the few places that has received money to offer rebates and low financing for radon mitigation, in large part due to the effective process that Lockman has introduced to Eagle County's system of distributing tests and reaching those with elevated levels of the gas.

"The good thing is, it's free to test for, it's easy to find out if it's present, and then it's fairly low cost to mitigate the problem," he said, "and there's all these great local resources and incentives to help fix the problem."

Creating a campaign

Shaw Regional Cancer Center has joined forces with Energy Smart Colorado and the Eagle County Department of Environmental Health to highlight the problem, too. In particular, with January being federally recognized as Radon Action Month, the health center has designated its location in Edwards as one of the places in the county to pick up a testing kit for free.

"These easy-to-use, free radon test kits could make a big difference in preventing lung cancer," said Doris Kirchner, CEO and president of the Vail Valley Medical Center. "It's critical for Eagle County residents to be aware of the risks of radon in our homes and to take this step to ensure our families and friends are safe from radon exposure."

Having the medical center involved in the campaign has highlighted the public health aspect of the issue and led to new demographics looking into test kits and home-energy improvements and generally more people getting the information they need about the safety of their home.

"I'm very excited about the partnership with Shaw this year," Lockman said. "It's created a campaign to educate people about something they can prevent with an easy action, and they're a great, trusted local resource."

Merry agreed that the problem is a wide-ranging issue, but that the available solutions are important for a healthy community and economy in the county.

"Our population here in Eagle County, we're healthy, we like to get outdoors and recreate and we care about our health and we care about the health of our families," he said. "It's investing in a healthier family and community and economy; the dots are all connected, so it's been fun to be part of such an amazing thing."

For more information about the issue, visit colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/understanding- radon, or for additional information about energy-efficiency programs and financing, check out energysmartcolorado.com. Additional information about Shaw Regional Cancer Center can be found at vvmc.com/services/cancer-care/about-shaw-cancer-center.

Pick up a free radon test kit

• Edwards Pharmacy at the Shaw Regional Cancer Center, 322 Beard Creek Road, Edwards

• Eagle County Environmental Health Department, 500 Broadway St., Eagle

• El Jebel Community Center, 20 Eagle County Drive, El Jebel

• Walking Mountains Science Center, 318 Walking Mountains Lane, Avon