Two things we know about radon are it exists in Fort Collins and long-term exposure to high levels can lead to a cancer diagnosis. But other questions exist.
January is designated Radon Action Month, a time when municipalities such as the city of Fort Collins and Larimer County encourage homeowners to have their houses tested for radon levels.
Here are five things you need to know about radon:
1. What is radon and why do we have it here?
Radon is a decay product of uranium, which Colorado has a lot of. That’s partially because the Rocky Mountain region has large amounts of granite closer to the surface, and granite carries more uranium than other types of rock.
Radon in the soil migrates into homes through cracks in the foundation, walls and floors, gaps around pipes and even through well water. The danger of exposure is greater the closer you are to the ground, so people who sleep or spend a lot of time in basements and lower levels are at a higher risk.
2. Is it really that big of a problem here?
The average indoor level of radon tops the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level in every county in Colorado.
In Fort Collins, an estimated 70 percent of homes surpass the EPA’s action level for radon.
Level and length of radon exposure are both risk factors. The EPA’s action level is 4 picocuries of radon per liter — the higher the level, the greater the cancer risk — but levels between 2 and 4 picocuries are also connected to cancer risk. The more time you spend inside your home, the greater the risk.
Exposure is also higher in winter months, when homes are warmer and windows and doors are usually closed, trapping radon inside.
3. OK, but what are my chances of getting cancer from radon?
The colorless, odorless, radioactive gas is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., according to the EPA. The EPA's Citizen's Guide to Radon estimates that if 1,000 non-smokers lived in homes at the agency's action level for radon for a lifetime — 74 years — seven of them would get lung cancer. That's about equal to your chance of dying in a car crash.
For smokers, radon exposure intensifies the risk of lung cancer. The EPA estimates that 62 of 1,000 smokers living in a home above the action level for radon for a lifetime would get lung cancer.
4. How do I know if I have a radon problem in my home?
Testing for radon is easy, and you can self-test your home using low-cost kits available for purchase at the Fort Collins Senior Center, 1200 Raintree Drive, and Fort Collins Development Review Center, 281 N. College Ave.
Short-term kits are $6 and long-term kits are $20. You can also hire a local certified contractor to test for radon.
If using short-term kits, it is suggested you buy two and put them next to each other so you can be sure about the accuracy of your reading. If you get a high level result, get a long-term kit, which will calculate your average level of exposure over about three months.
Don't trust your neighbor's readings because soil geology varies widely from house to house.
You can also attend one of these Colorado State University/Larimer County Extension education programs:
Jan. 18: Noon, CSU Larimer County Extension Office, 1525 Blue Spruce Drive, Fort Collins
Feb. 13: 1 p.m., Fort Collins Senior Center
Feb. 28, 2 p.m., Red Feather Lakes Community Library
Registration is required. To register, visit noconow.co/radontest or contact Karen Crumbaker at CSU Larimer County Extension, 970-498-6003 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. What do I do if my test comes back with elevated radon levels?
You can have a radon mitigation system installed. This generally consist of installing PVC pipes from the basement up through the roof to draw the radon from the soil. Passive mitigation includes installing the pipes. Active mitigation includes putting a motorized fan on the pipes to draw the radon out of the home.
Expect to pay around $1,000 to $3,000 for the systems.
The city offers no-fee, zero-interest loans to assist with mitigation costs when radon levels are 4 pc. or more. The loans range from $1,000 to $3,000 and can assist with up to 90 percent of the costs associated with radon mitigation. Radon tests must be completed prior to applying for these loans.
For information about radon, its health impacts, radon testing and radon mitigation, visit fcgov.com/radon.