Radon Gas: Problem for Palisades Homeowners

By Anthony Marguleas
Special to the Palisades News

The recent trend of adding basements in homes in Pacific Palisades has added a new concern: radon gas.

Radon is a naturally occurring, cancer-causing radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown (radioactive decay) of uranium. It is found in igneous rock and soil.

Residents cannot see or smell radon, but it could be a problem in a residence. It is the heaviest known gas, nine times denser than air, and can penetrate many building materials like wood paneling, mortar, sheathing paper and gypsum board (sheetrock) as well as insulation. Because radon is heavier than air, elevated radon levels build up in basements and on lower floors.

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The Environmental Protection Agency says as many as 20,000 lung cancer deaths are the result of radon, making it the primary cause of lung cancer among people who are not smokers.

Interestingly, radon has been around a long time, but does not get nearly the same attention as other home health concerns like mold, asbestos or lead paint, most likely because a homeowner cannot see or smell it.

Different home radon detection kits are available to consumers.

Different home radon detection kits are available to consumers.

The EPA reports that “nearly one in three homes have levels over 4.0 pCi/L, which is the EPA’s recommended action level.

However, a family receiving that level or radiation is exposed to roughly 35 times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would allow if that family was standing next to the fence of a radioactive waste site (25 mrem limit, 800 mrem exposure). At these levels radon carries approximately 1,000 times the risk of death as any other EPA carcinogen.

The Indoor Radon Abatement Act, also known as Radon Act 51, was passed by Congress in 1988 to set the natural outdoor level of radon gas (0.4 pCi/L) as the target radon level for indoor radon levels.

However, two-thirds of homes exceed this level. Note the exterior is 0.4 pCi/L by Congress, while the EPA set the interior limits ten times higher at 4.0 pCi/L.

It is important to point out that this does not mean that levels below 4.0 pCi/L are considered acceptable. For instance, levels below 2.0 pCi/L would likely reduce the yearly lung cancer deaths by 50 percent. Even at 2.0 pCi/L, the cancer risk is still hundreds of times larger than the risks for carcinogens in our food and water.

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To add to the confusion, while the EPA recommends a level of 4.0 pCi/L or lower, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends more conservative levels of 2.7 pCi/L or lower for inside homes. Bottom line: If you have radon in your home, we recommend to just get it as low as possible and ideally well below 2.0 pCi/L. With all the new construction in the Palisades, many with subterranean basements, it is a good idea to have your home’s radon levels checked. Testing is the only way to know the radon levels since there are no immediate physical signs, and it can take years before any health problems surface. Testing is easy. You can purchase kits at most hardware stores or you can hire an environmental specialist who will test for you. To get the most accurate reading, prior to the test all your doors and windows should be kept closed for a couple of days. The testing boxes usually need to stay in the home a few days as well, and results can be read after the test period.

The good news is if your home has high concentrations of radon there are several ways to reduce it to acceptable levels. The most common method is to get a simple ventilation system to make sure the radon is not sitting in the lowest level of the home. Once the ventilation system has been installed, you need to retest your radon levels to make sure they are in the acceptable range. We have had several buyers recently who found radon in their home and we were able to recommend some professional mitigators to lower the levels to below 2. The lower the radon level in your home, the lower your family’s risk of lung cancer. Visit radon.com for more information. 

(Anthony Marguleas founded Amalfi Estates 22 years ago and has sold close to $1 billion in properties. In 2016, he was selected by The Wall Street Journal as one of the top 60 agents in the country, out of one million agents. Call (310)293-9280 or visit AmalfiEstates.com.)

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