Radon gas a silent but preventable threat

Radon gas a silent but preventable threat
Posted on 01/18/2012

What if your home had been invaded without your knowledge by an enemy you couldn’t detect with any of your senses? There would be no way to protect yourself until it was too late and the unthinkable happened.

Cottonwood Heights resident Charlie McQuinn dealt with this very scenario. The culprit: radon gas. The odorless, colorless and tasteless gas had built up in his home without his knowledge. As a result, he was diagnosed with lymphoma a year ago after doctors found cancerous tumors in both his lungs and his abdomen.

“After four rounds of chemo, the tumor in my lungs was growing and the one in my abdomen was shrinking,” said McQuinn, a non-smoker. “My doctor told me, ‘The likely cause is radon gas in your home. You need to have it checked.’ I had heard about radon before, but I hadn’t even thought of that.”

Radon gas is created when the uranium in granite breaks down into radium, which then decays into radon. The radioactive gas moves up through the soil into the atmosphere where it disperses and presents little concern. However, when it seeps into a building, it can accumulate and present a health concern for occupants.

The surgeon general has warned that excessive radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today, and excessive levels have been found in all fifty states. In Utah, approximately 30 percent of homes have radon levels that are above the EPA recommended action standard of four pico-Curies per liter of air (pCi/L).

In Cottonwood Heights, 621 homes had been tested for radon as of March 2011. Of those 621 homes, 29.6 percent of the tests showed levels greater than four pCi/L.

Some residents, including McQuinn, choose to install a sub-slab depressurization system. A hole is drilled into the foundation of the home, and a PVC pipe with a constantly-running fan create a venting system that draws the gas out from under the structure and disperses it into the atmosphere.

Utah residents can get a testing kit for just six dollars through the state’s radon website, www.radon.utah.gov. If needed, sub-slab depressurization systems usually cost between $1200 and $1300 and are installed by private contractors.

As for McQuinn, he is now cancer-free, and because of the sub-slab depressurization system, radon levels in his home now hover at a very safe 0.8 pCi/L. He says he wouldn’t change his experience because of the miracles he says he’s witnessed in the last year. However, he is using his experiences to urge others to take action so they don’t have to deal with the same consequences he and his family have suffered.

“I knew about it, I didn’t take it seriously, and I got lung cancer,” he said.