The mission of the New Hampshire Radon Program is to help all people in New Hampshire understand the health impacts of radon. It doesn’t matter if your house is old or new or where it is located. Testing for radon is the only way of knowing whether it is present in your home. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It has no smell, color or taste, and is produced from the natural radioactive decay of uranium in rocks and soil. Radon can also be found in water.
New Hampshire is well known as the “Granite State”. This granite, in addition to our soil, contains small amounts of uranium. The uranium naturally breaks down and forms radon gas that we can breathe. Unfortunately, radon has no color, taste or smell to let you know you are breathing it. The only way to know if you have radon in your home is to test for it. As radon is a gas it can enter your home, school or work place and become part of the air we breathe.
There is more than one way radon can enter into your home, school or workplace. It can enter through the foundation, or for those with private wells, through sinks, showers, and toilets.
Breathing radon gas can harm your lungs. Over a long period of time, this will raise the risk of lung cancer. It is important to remember that there is no safe level of radon but there is a way to reduce radon in your home.
Radon in Air Reduction
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends taking action to reduce radon in homes that have an airborne radon level of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher.
The best way to reduce radon is to have a system put in that removes the radon from under the home before it enters into your living space. To do this a trained radon professional will install a pipe into the basement or crawlspace floor and route the pipe to the outside of the home. This pipe is then connected to a radon fan that exhausts the air. This type of system is very good at reducing radon levels year round to below the EPA Action Level of 4.0 pCi/L. It is not possible to reduce radon levels to zero as even outdoor air has an average radon level of 0.4 pCi/L in the United States.
Just sealing cracks and other openings in homes is not a good way to lower radon in a home by itself but is often done to improve the efficiency of the radon reduction system. In fact, the EPA tried many types of sealing to stop radon from getting into a home and they found it did very little to reduce the radon levels. Spending money on expensive “radon barriers” or “radon sealant paints” is not considered a good idea as this money would be better spent on the installation of a radon removal system.
In New Hampshire, contractors that install systems to reduce airborne radon are called “radon mitigators” and are required to be nationally certified. A list of nationally certified radon professionals can be found at the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists National Radon Proficiency Program and the National Radon Safety Board.
Radon in Water Reduction
Although the major health concern for Radon is in air, it is a good idea to reduce any Radon that you find in your water as it can migrate into the air. For every 10,000 pCi/L of Radon that you have in your water, an estimated 1 pCi/L can get into your air through faucets, toilets and showers. The current recommendation in New Hampshire is to consider reducing radon in water when the level is between 2,000 - 10,000 pCi/L and the airborne radon level in the home is 4pCi/L or more.
Radon in water is most often reduced by a system that is installed where the water line from the well enters the home. These types of systems aerate or bubble the water to release the radon from the water into the air. The airborne radon released by the system is then vented to the outside of the home with piping. Charcoal filters can also be used to reduce radon in water but are not very effective for levels of radon in water greater than 2,000 pCi/L. A filter also requires more maintenance and radiation can build up in the filter, which can pose a health risk to home residents. Filters used to reduce radon in water can also result in a low-level radioactive material that has to be disposed of properly. There is no requirement for radon in water mitigators to be certified in New Hampshire but those installing these systems may require licensing as a plumber.
Maintenance of Radon Mitigation Systems
Radon reduction systems for airborne radon require little maintenance with only the fan being a possible source of failure. Fans used in radon reduction systems are designed for long-term use and are usually good for 10 - 15 years before needing to be replaced. Radon in water treatment systems are often maintained by the companies that install them who can provide maintenance contracts to keep the system running well. If a filter system is used to reduce radon in water it is a good idea to have a maintenance contract so that the filter is changed out on a regular schedule to keep the system filtering out the radon effectively.