Radon 101 with Ryan Paris

If you’re not a fan of the cold, know that the winter months are good for at least one thing: they’re the best time of year to test for radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer.

Who’s most at risk during radon exposure? And how do we test for radon? Fortunately for us all, VDH has Radon Coordinator Ryan Paris. And with over 24 years in VDH’s Division of Radiological Health, he’s got answers.

Where and how does someone get exposed to radon?  

You can be exposed to high levels of radon inside some homes, schools, or workplaces – especially if they are poorly ventilated. Outdoor radon levels are generally much lower, but this varies by location. You can see if you live in an area that has high potential radon risk by checking out the radon risk map for Virginia on the VDH website.

Are some people more at risk for cancer with radon exposure?  

Any radon exposure carries some risk, and no level of radon exposure is always safe. Smoking is by far the most dangerous behavior that will increase your radon risk. Current smokers have approximately a ten times greater radon risk than never smokers!

How can I test radon levels in my home?  

There are two different types of radon tests – short-term and long-term. A short-term test lasts 2-7 days and should not be performed if severe weather is expected. Powerful storms can sometimes cause temporary high spikes in indoor radon levels.

Most homes show seasonal fluctuation in radon levels. Winter usually yields the highest results and summer the lowest. Your home’s radon levels will also be highest on the ground floor. A wide variety of short-term test kits may be found in hardware stores or online ranging from $10-20. While supplies last, you can purchase short term test kits for $3 at www.vdhradon.org. The best way to confirm an initial borderline short-term test result is to do a long-term test that lasts an entire calendar year. These cost around $25-35 and can be found from an online vendor.

If my test kit shows high levels of radon, what do I do next?  

If you have confirmed test results of 4.0 pCi/L or higher, you should consider mitigating (any process used to reduce radon concentrations) the home. The mitigation system can usually be installed in one day and consists of PVC piping connected to a fan which runs 24/7 to provide suction. This system seeks to draw out the radon gas from beneath your home and vent it outside of anybody’s potential breathing space. Professional radon mitigators and testers who are currently certified according to the VA Code can be found on the websites of the National Radon Safety Board and the National Radon Proficiency Program.

If your test kit does not show high levels of radon, you can take some steps to make sure your home stays that way! Improving ventilation in your home by bringing in more outside air and sealing any foundation cracks will help. Fuel-burning furnaces and exhaust fans create negative air pressure that can draw more radon into the home, so minimize your use of those.

National Radon Action Month ended Jan. 31, but the fight to minimize radon risk continues! Order your test kit from vdhradon.org today. And if you want help reducing your tobacco use—which reduces your risk of radon-related lung cancer, among a multitude of other health benefits—check out our interview with tobacco cessation expert Sarah Birckhead!