by Rick Galarneau
ABOUT ME AND HOW WE STARTED
Welcome to my blog about radon, radon testing and radon mitigation. Here I will share my knowledge about radon in hopes that some will gain some helpful information about this misunderstood topic.
A little bit about me and my background. My name is Rick Galarneau, I was born and raised in Western Massachusetts, West Springfield to be exact. I am 61 years old and married to my wonderful wife Maryanne. We have 5 grown children and 3 grandchildren with one more on the way due in July.
I have done many things in my life. A US Navy Veteran, firefighter, EMT, long haul truck driver, construction worker and modular home builder. I have owned and operated Aaron Associates for about 14 years. I started the business as a home inspector partly because I enjoy building and construction and partly because I have always wanted to be my own boss and own my own business. The home inspection part of this business was the starting point for the radon part of the business. As a home inspector in the area for many years, I was fortunate enough to meet many wonderful Realtors who would be instrumental in making this business what it is today. Their support was reassuring and much needed and I am forever grateful for them and their backing and if any of you are reading this, you know who you are.
So a heartfelt thank you to all of you who supported me and recommended me to your clients, but just as importantly a big thank you to my wife who always had my back, supported me and encouraged me. It was a big step to stop working for other people and start my own business and it took a few years before it was able to sustain me on its own. She always maintained a positive attitude about the early days and she knew it would be successful. I remember the evening my new office phone rang for the first time and my first home inspection was scheduled, I came out of my small home office with a big smile and yelled "I got one" and my son, my wife and myself exchanged high fives and Aaron Associates was born.
As a home inspector I was asked to perform radon testing in the prospective homes my clients were considering buying. Now at this time, radon testing was something that was done occasionally but not nearly as often as it is now. Back then, realtors and the public were not too sure what this radon stuff was, but they knew it was not good and certainly not something they wanted to be discovered in one of their listings. Several years or so into this venture, radon testing was becoming a little more accepted and I was beginning to get asked, "who should I call" when an elevated radon reading was found. I decided I would try to assemble a list of people who could solve the radon problems we were uncovering and quickly realized that there was no one in our local area who could help. I contacted the Mass. Board of Health, Radiation Control Program, located in Northampton and asked about who could fix radon problems in our area.
I was told that there is no one in the area and the closest radon companies were located in Central or Eastern Mass. and Connecticut. I gathered a few names and had them available for my clients, yet all the while I was wondering why no one was in our area doing this. I spoke with the Board of Health again and asked why and they did not know. They told me there was a couple of people who were doing it locally for a while but that they had gone out of business. I asked if they thought this would be a viable business opportunity and was given an enthusiastic yes! I spoke with my wife again and told her I was thinking of adding radon mitigation to Aaron Associates as something that could generate additional income. Further research told me that I would need some formal training and testing to become "Certified" in radon mitigation.
I looked into what was required, found the closest training site which was an extension program from Rutgers University and was being held in Albany NY. After more discussion about if this was something I should jump into, I decided that with my inspection experience and building experience it would be a good fit. I broke out the soon to be well worn Discover card and signed up for the class. I went to Albany, checked in to a local hotel for my weeklong stay and began attending the course. I learned a lot about radon, what it is, where it comes from, what it does to people. I learned about its atomic properties and how it interacts at the cellular level inside the human lungs. I learned how to properly test for it, how it acts and what makes it show up on a test and how it rises and falls greatly depending on the weather and other environmental factors.
I learned how to design a mitigation system and how they work and how to install one. Finally the end of the week was here and time to pay for (Discover card again) and take my certification test. Well I passed, the test and did well. I doubted myself because I am a hands on kind of person and not so much a book learner but I did better that I expected and was now Certified through the National Environmental Health Association or NEHA as its known and still am to this day.
After returning home I notified the Board of Health and they listed me as a Mitigator on their "official" list. I broke out the Discover card again and proceeded to spend thousands on the things I would need and that was just the start up costs, a trailer, ladders, drills, saws etc, later much more would be spent on more tools and equipment. I proceeded to tell all the Realtors that I had been working with about my new venture and again they stepped up and supported me. The jobs were slow in coming at first and over the next few years, more information about radon was being made public, more people were hearing about and more Realtors were advising their clients about testing for it.
As a result of everyne's efforts to get the word out, every year has been busier that the previous one for radon mitigation to the point where we are now doing about 160 -200 systems a year. Last year I suspended my home inspection part of the business because we were just so busy doing radon jobs, that I could not get home inspections done in time to satisfy clients, so we now are completely dedicated to radon reduction in homes. Keep an eye on my blog as I will continue to delve into more information about radon most of which Realtors should find helpful when discussing it with clients and some very important information you should be aware of, till next time.
WHAT IS RADON?
Ok, what is radon gas anyway? Radon gas is a decay product of uranium. Uranium is a naturally occurring element found on planet Earth. Typically it is found deep underground in the bedrock and can run in "veins". Uranium, like most radioactive elements, goes through a decay process where it breaks down over time and gives off, or becomes something else that is also radioactive. In the case of uranium it decays into another element called radium. Radium also decays and it breaks down into RADON GAS. Radon, because it is a gas, moves easily through cracks in the earth and can travel underground with other soil gases and it can also find its way into underground water, springs etc. That's how it gets in your well water. As it moves underground it works its way to the surface of the earth and naturally vents itself into the atmosphere.
When you build a house on top of the earth, a foundation is dug and a concrete floor is poured. The radon that was venting itself out of the earth in that particular spot, is still trying to do so, only now it gets caught under the foundation and builds up in pressure until it forces its way into the basement through cracks, gaps in the concrete floor/wall joint sumps, and any other opening in the concrete to the earth below. Once it's in the house, it attaches itself to dust particles and travels around your house where you breath it in. Once it is in your lungs, radon like the other radioactive elements, breaks down again and gives off what is known as radon daughters. These radon daughters give off a small burst of energy when they are born and that energy can damage cells in the lungs which can in turn, become a cancerous cell.
So we can see why it is something that you would want to reduce in your home and the lower the amount, the less of everything else that occurs. So there it is, a quick not too scientific explanation of radon, next installment, testing for it.
Radon in the well water creates the same problems as radon in the air. Waterborne radon is released into the air at its point of use which is usually on the living floor. Once its released into the air you breath it in and the results are the same as airborne radon.
There are some concerns about drinking well water with elevated radon levels causing stomach cancer, but the results seem to be inconclusive about the amount of water and radon is required, breathing it in is the major concern. Remember, radon gas causes over 22,000 deaths a year making it the leading cause of lung cancer in non smokers and the 2nd leading cause overall.
Ok, let's talk about airborne radon testing since it is the first step in determining if there is in fact a radon problem. Lets preface this by stating that radon gas is EVERYWHERE!, It is in the air we breathe even in our back yard and it is definitely in every house on the planet, even with a radon system. So anyone making a statement like "there is no radon here" or "this house does not have radon" or "there is no radon in this part of town", is fooling themselves and whoever they are telling that to. The fact is there is radon everywhere and the real question is, how much radon is here? Radon testing is the only way to know what your house has for radon levels. It does not matter what your neighbor has, or anyone else on your street for that matter, every house is different. Unsafe levels of radon can be found in only one house on a given street while all the other homes may test as safe, or they may all test as unsafe except for one house on the street.
Now testing comes in several forms. The EPA recommends what is known as long term testing. Long term testing should be done whenever possible because it will give the most accurate results regarding your average indoor radon levels. Long term testing can last 3 months to a year and it should be done covering two or more seasons. Nothing special needs to be done to the house and normal living conditions should be maintained, no need to close up the house or worry about the weather, it designed to determine levels of radon under normal everyday life. This is the type of test you would want to use in a house that is NOT for sale at the time of testing.
Short term testing is the one REALTORS want to be using or have done. Short term testing was designed for a quick idea on if a home might have an elevated radon level and there is not enough time for long term testing. Short term testing should be conducted for typically 48 to 72 hours. ANY method of testing should always be done for a minimum of 48 hours, and under "normal" weather conditions. Normal conditions are just what you would think it is, 2-3 inches of rain in a 24 hr. period and high wind conditions are NOT normal and this weather will severely impact your short term testing results and not in a good way. Severe weather will raise indoor radon levels substantially during the severe weather event and they will return to their more regular readings as that weather passes. Some home are mistakenly diagnosed as a high radon level home because of testing in the wrong weather conditions. Remember this is a test that averages the readings over a 48 hour period, so if you have a home that is normally say a 3.0 pCi/l and day 2 of the test has a heavy downpour of rain and high winds, the radon on that day may reach 9.0 or higher. That would end up with a test result of 6.0 indicating an elevated radon problem, however that 9.0 was only a temporary reading and quickly dropped to around the 3.0 mark as the weather passes. So weather can play an important part in test results.
Location, Location, Location, applies to radon testing also. In addition to the weather concerns, where the testing is done is also a big issue. Many home inspectors who conduct radon testing are not certified testers and there are not many certified testers around. Certified testers know the when's and where's about testing. Most non certified testers believe that testing in the basement is always the best place to test. In many cases it is the right place, but not always by a long shot. The EPA states that radon testing should be conducted in the lowest level of a home that is suitable to be used as a living space without major renovations. That means that most basements that have intact concrete or block walls and a concrete floor and are mostly dry and could be used as an exercise space, family room, workshop etc, would be the right place to test. A basement in an old house with crumbling stone walls or a dirt floor, missing concrete floor sections, or low ceilings and very damp conditions would not be the preferred location for testing because it is not suitable to be used for just about anything because of its condition. In this case the 1st floor living space would be the preferred place to test since nobody will spending any time in this basement without major renovations to make it habitable, like pouring a concrete floor, sealing the floor to the walls etc. I once heard of a home inspector who thought testing in a crawl space would be a good place to test, who lives in a crawl space? I like to think of it as "test where you breath". Now just because the seller does not use his clean, dry, concrete basement does not mean that the buyers won't use it. The reasoning behind this "rule" of testing is because the cost of mitigation for this home with the undesirable basement can be very costly, so now your typical $1300.00 radon system may need several thousand dollars of work before it can be mitigated. It may need the basement dug out, stone installed and a new floor poured, or perhaps it will need a costly HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator) system to reduce the levels. Next installment: Testing Radon in the well water.
RADON IN WELL WATER TESTING
Radon in the well water? Yes it can be a source of radon in your home. Some good news is that there is no direct correlation between airborne radon levels and well water levels, so that means that just because you have elevated airborne readings, you won't necessarily have elevated waterborne levels. The USEPA recommends that well water be tested whenever a airborne radon test exceeds the limits, currently 4.0 as set by the USEPA.
Testing for waterborne radon is a very specific test and is not included in your typical water quality analysis. The sample must be drawn in a specific way or you risk losing radon and thus a lower then true reading and the sample gets sent to a completely different lab that the one where your water quality test is being sent. Even if the lab that you are using claims they do radon in water testing, they also send that sample to a certified radon testing lab. Beware of the instructions that water testing labs give, I have heard them tell clients to simply "fill a jar with water and bring it in". That couldn't be any more incorrect. I will be glad to email you the proper instructions on how to draw a radon in water test sample if you contact me. The following is the proper procedure for drawing a radon in water test sample.
Step 1 - Prepare to collect your sample
Radon in water testing is performed by collecting a sample of your water. The goal is to collect fresh, cold water straight from your water source or well.
If you have any faucet aerators, or filters, please bypass or remove these devices from the faucet you are going to use as they will remove radon from the water and skew your test result.
Allow the cold water to run for a minimum of 10 -15 min. until any holding tanks and pipes are cleared and fresh water straight from your source is running through.
Step 2 - Collect your sample
You need to collect a sample of water in the vial with no air bubbles or headspace. The vial should be 100% filled with water.
To do this, remove any faucet aerator that may be installed and slowly fill a bowl or deep pan, insuring that no bubbles are created while filling the bowl, disturbing the water as little as possible.
Submerge the vial open side up until it has filled. The vial should not contain any preservatives or hazardous chemicals.
While still holding the vial underwater, submerge the cap and remove air from it by turning the cap upside down. Screw the cap on the vial while both are still submerged. This should eliminate any air bubbles.
Remove the vial from the water and check for air bubbles by flipping it upside down, if any air bubbles are seen, empty the vial and fill it again.
Step 3 - Ship your sample to the lab
Complete all information on the enclosed test information sheet.
On a separate piece of paper that you will keep for your records, please record the test serial number, collection date, and date you shipped the sample to the lab.
Immediately ship your sample in the provided packaging to the lab. A delay in shipment could invalidate your test.
As you can see, it is a specific method of sampling and care must be used in order to insure that you are not throwing away your money and that you are getting the most accurate results that you can. Unfortunately finding a radon pro who does radon testing is getting more difficult to find so radon in water testing my end up falling on you or possibly the realtor.
The results. Well there is no cut and dry number for radon in water levels as there is with airborne radon. These "safe" levels vary depending on which State you are in. Massachusetts, which does not regulate radon testing has a limit for waterborne radon that is in place for municipal water supplies such as reservoirs, lakes, town wells etc. They do not regulate private water supplies like your homes own well. We use the same limit in Mass. as is used for municipal water supplies and that is currently 10,000 pCi/l since there are no set limits for private wells. Now if you live in some other States, like Maine, Connecticut and others the limits for waterborne radon can be between 2,000 and 5,000 pCi/l.
There is a ratio between airborne and waterborne radon and that is, for every 10,000 pCi/l that is present in your well water, it will add 1.0 pCi/l to you airborne reading and it will add it to the air on the floor of the house where the most water is used. Washing machines, dishwashers, showers etc or anything that agitates or aerates the water will cause it to release from the water and become airborne which you will then breath in.
Next installment will begin to cover mitigation, or the methods for removing radon from your home.
more to come...
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