Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Letter R: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

     I snapped on the light.  A hulking white figure to my left resolved itself into the artificial Christmas tree, bagged and unused for years.  Cobwebs slowly drifted by my face, briefly stirred by the influx of fresh air.  The detritis of 20 years lay strewn about the basement, silently waiting for some final disposition.  Nothing unusual; I mentally shrugged, flipped off the light and went back upstairs.  No monsters in my basement after all.
     Except the same silent killer which lurks in households all across America.  It is colorless, odorless, and undetectable without specific tests.  It's one of the leading environmental causes of cancer overall.
     It is a radioactive gas called radon.
     Radon is the primary cause of lung cancer in people who have never smoked. It is also responsible for the bulk of most people's total exposure to radiation Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas which seeps through cracks and holes in building foundations, concentrating in basements and below-ground building levels. An estimated 1 in 15 homes in the US has a significant level of radon;  and certain areas of the country are more prone to high levels of the gas.
     The effects of radon appeared as long ago as the 1600s  (miners may also be exposed to large quantities of the gas) and was described as mala metallorum or miner's wasting disesase.  In the 1970s, research began on the problem of radon in American homes, its effects, and ways to mitigate it.  In the mid 1980s, radon featured prominently in my local newspaper;  a worker at the nearby Three Mile Island nuclear plant was found to be contaminated with radiation, but the source was not the nuclear plant but his home, which had extremely high levels of radon.
     After we built our home in 1994, it was recommended that we wait 6 months for the house to settle and then test for radon.  We did so, and the testing showed high levels. So we had to hire a radon mitigation company to come in and run specific tests, do some heavy-duty sealing of certain areas, and install a special fan which runs 24 hours day to constantly refresh the basement air. Many of the homes in my county have the same type of system installed; other homeowners who cannot afford, or don't want to bother with testing and mitigation have to take their chances with this potentially deadly monster in the basement.


  1. Radon is pretty scary. I hope this post encourages folks to test for it. Interesting theme, by the way!

  2. Concentrates in the basement? Glad we don't have one. That's scary.

  3. Wow, that's something. There's a radon monitor in my building. I don't know if anyone is in charge of monitoring the monitor, or if the law just stated that it had to be put in.

  4. This one affects my area. We have high readings everywhere. There are free test kits so we can test our homes and to help map out the uncharted areas.