Radon Testing in Maryland
Understanding Radon in Frederick County
You’ve probably heard something about radon, where it comes from, and that it is supposed to cause lung cancer, but what about it?
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that is created by the breakdown of Uranium. It is the only gas in the Uranium-238 decay series. The entire breakdown cycle takes billions of years, going from uranium-238 all the way to Lead 206, which is stable.
Radon has a short half-life of only 3.8 days (half-life is defined as the amount of time it takes for half the nuclei in a sample to undergo radioactive decay). It takes billions of years for Uranium 238 to decay in a five-step process into Radon, but only about 23 years for Radon to decay through eight steps into stable Lead. During each of these decay steps, a radioactive particle is emitted, which can lead to cellular damage that can cause cancer.
On average, about six atoms of Radon emerge from every square inch of soil every second. Outside it is diluted rapidly, but if it enters through a basement floor and is trapped in a tight, energy-efficient house, it can reach dangerous concentrations. The map below shows the areas in Maryland; the counties in red are in the highest risk areas, while the yellow areas are lowest.
The big issue about Radon is that it is a gas when we inhale it, but if it decays into solids while it is in our lungs, those solids stay in our lungs for the rest of the decay cycle, emitting alpha, beta and gamma particles.
The radiation emitted by Radon as it decays would be less harmful if it were outside our bodies. The slow moving, heavy Alpha particle is stopped by the first thing it hits, such as our clothing or even the layer of dead skin on the surface of our bodies. But if Radon is inhaled, it emits the particles very close to sensitive internal tissues, and lung tissue is particularly susceptible to ionizing radiation. Because of this, Radon testing is encouraged.
Is There a Safe Level of Radon in Maryland Homes?
There really is no “safe” level of Radon, but since it occurs everywhere, the natural free-air outside level is about 0.4 pCi/L (PicoCuries per Liter). The Level of 4.0 pCi/L was established as a number at which the risk associated with radon is approaching unacceptable levels. This level of exposure is equivalent to an annual radiation exposure of 4 rem. To put this exposure into perspective, the maximum permissible occupational exposure for persons working in radiation-related occupations is 5 rem per year.
When is Radon Remediation Necessary?
Generally, a Radon level of 4 pCi/L is considered “actionable”. The highest level of Radon Bob has seen during his inspections was 44 pCi/L. The highest level ever recorded in a residence was an astonishing 2700 pCi/L (this was revealed when the home’s owner showed up to work at a nuclear power plant, and set off the radiation alarms when he entered the facility). Background Radon levels (what would be found if a test was placed outside) is between 0.5 and 1 pCi/L. As such, a test result of 3.99 pCi/L is not ‘safe’ per se, but it is under the EPA’s “threshold,” the level at which most contingencies kick in.
In 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that the actionable level be reduced to 2.7 pCi/L. In our opinion, all homes that test over the 2.7 pCi/L WHO level should have remediation systems installed. While 4.0 may be the locally observed Real-Estate threshold, considering the risk, IBB recommends following the WHO recommendations of 2.7 pCi/L for your family’s long term safety.
How does Inspections by Bob perform Radon testing?
Our tests consist of two calibrated canisters. These canisters are perfectly safe; they do not emit anything into the air, but are merely measuring the levels of certain particles in the air. After making careful note of the environmental conditions in the home (temperature, placement time, location, etc.), our inspector will activate the test. We also place warning tags on doors indicating that Radon testing is being performed, and will leave information with the home’s current occupants with special instructions regarding opening windows and doors during the test. It is important that the test not be disturbed or moved until retrieved by the lab; doing so will invalidate the test, which will require a re-test and an additional testing fee. In about two days, the lab will contact either the occupants or one of the agents to get access to the property and retrieve the test canisters. Test results are typically emailed later the same day, although weekends and holidays may a backlog.
Please note that if we see any windows left open when we arrive to either place a test or perform a home inspection with a radon test, we will close all the windows and the test period must be extended to four days (a minimum of 96 hours).
Our Radon test fee is $199 for Montgomery County, Frederick County, and Howard County. We are unable to offer tests in other counties at this time. For Radon tests performed with a home inspection, the test fee is $180.
It’s Not Just Your Home!
But here’s a bigger issue: even if you get your home’s Radon levels under control with a remediation system, you have no way of knowing the levels of exposure in other structures, such as office buildings, schools, or day care facilities. If you or your children spend a lot of time in basement or ground floor levels of buildings, ask if Radon levels have been tested and what the results were. Only a few states have rules regarding Radon testing in schools, and sending a student to a classroom with a high radon concentration presents a cancer risk similar to requiring the student to smoke a few cigarettes during the school day.
Inspections by Bob strongly suggests that ALL homes be tested for Radon as part of the Real Estate transaction, and that everyone understand the risks associated with whatever values are returned. Obviously, we strongly suggest remediation for values above 4.0 pCi/L, but also suggest that ANY level above ambient be thoroughly understood.
Want To Know More about Radon Inspections in Maryland?
Radon Fact Sheet (note: this is a radon test manufacturer’s site)