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Radon testing basics 101

Posted: March 7, 2009 12:29 a.m.
Updated: March 7, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Short-term testing
The quickest way to test is with short-term tests. Short-term tests remain in your home for two days to 90 days, depending on the device. “Charcoal canisters,” “alpha track,” “electret ion chamber,” “continuous monitors,” and “charcoal liquid scintillation” detectors are most commonly used for short-term testing. Because radon levels tend to vary from day to day and season to season, a short-term test is less likely than a long-term test to tell you your year-round average radon level. If you need results quickly, however, a short-term test followed by a second short-term test may be used to decide whether to fix your home.
  • Using a radon test kit should only take a few minutes of your time. Follow the instructions that come with your test kit. If you are doing a short-term test, close your windows and outside doors and keep them closed as much as possible during the test. Heating and air-conditioning system fans that re-circulate air may be operated. Do not operate fans or other machines which bring in air from outside. Fans that are part of a radon-reduction system or small exhaust fans operating only for short periods of time may run during the test.

  • If you are doing a short-term test lasting just two or three days, be sure to close your windows and outside doors at least 12 hours before beginning the test, too. You should not conduct short-term tests lasting just two or three days during unusually severe storms or periods of unusually high winds. The test kit should be placed in the lowest lived-in level of the home (for example, the basement if it is frequently used, otherwise the first floor). It should be put in a room that is used regularly (like a living room, playroom, den or bedroom) but not your kitchen or bathroom. Place the kit at least 20 inches above the floor in a location where it won’t be disturbed — away from drafts, high heat, high humidity, and exterior walls. Leave the kit in place for as long as the package says. Once you’ve finished the test, reseal the package and send it to the lab specified on the package right away for analysis. You should receive your test results within a few weeks.

Long-term testing
Long-term tests remain in your home for more than 90 days. “Alpha track” and “electret” detectors are commonly used for this type of testing. A long-term test will give you a reading that is more likely to tell you your home’s year-round average radon level than a short-term test.
 
EPA Recommends the Following Testing Steps:
  • Take a short-term test. If your result is 4 pCi/L or higher take a follow-up test to be sure.

  • Follow up with either a long-term test or a second short-term test. For a better understanding of your year-round average radon level, take a long-term test. If you need results quickly, take a second short-term test.

  • The higher your initial short-term test result, the more certain you can be that you should take a short-term rather than a long-term follow up test. If your first short-term test result is more than twice EPA’s 4 pCi/L action level, you should take a second short-term test immediately.

  • If you followed up with a long-term test: Fix your home if your long-term test result is 4 pCi/L or more. If you followed up with a second short-term test: The higher your short-term results, the more certain you can be that you should fix your home. Consider fixing your home if the average of your first and second test is 4 pCi/L or higher.
   
What Your Test Results Mean
Test your home now and save your results. If you find high radon levels, fix your home before you decide to sell it.
  • The average indoor radon level is estimated to be about 1.3 pCi/L, and about 0.4 pCi/L of radon is normally found in the outside air. The U.S. Congress has set a long-term goal that indoor radon levels be no more than outdoor levels. While this goal is not yet technologically achievable in all cases, most homes today can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or below.

  • Sometimes short-term tests are less definitive about whether or not your home is above 4 pCi/L. This can happen when your results are close to 4 pCi/L. For example, if the average of your two short-term test results is 4.1 pCi/L, there is about a 50 percent chance that your year-round average is somewhat below 4 pCi/L. However, EPA believes that any radon exposure carries some risk — no level of radon is safe. Even radon levels below 4 pCi/L pose some risk, and you can reduce your risk of lung cancer by lowering your radon level.

  • If your living patterns change and you begin occupying a lower level of your home (such as a basement) you should retest your home on that level.
Even if your test result is below 4 pCi/L, you may want to test again sometime in the future.

How to Obtain Radon Test Kits
  • Purchase a test kit from your local home improvement or hardware store. Many kits are priced under $25.
  • Visit the National Safety Council (NSC) Web site, available at www.nsc.org/issues/radon, for information on obtaining test kits.
  • Contact your state radon program, details available at www.epa.gov/iaq/whereyoulive.html, for more information about obtaining test kits from your state or from a radon testing company or laboratory in your area.
Radon presents a serious health risk, but it can be controlled easily and cost-effectively. Take action today. Encourage your friends and family members to do the same!
 
SOURCE: www.epa.gov/radon

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