When we send our children to school, we assume that they’re safe; that they’re learning in a healthy environment. But health officials say there’s a danger in the air: a toxic cancer causing gas in thousands of classrooms nationwide. And, we found, many districts are doing nothing about it.
A new law that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012, will help people who rent apartments, condominiums or houses access information about radon levels in their homes. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency’s (IEMA) radon program is offering guidance to help renters better understand radon hazards and their rights under this new law.
Public Act 97-0021, which was approved by the Illinois General Assembly this spring and signed by Gov. Quinn on June 28, 2011, requires owners of rental units to inform renters in writing before a lease is signed if the rental space has been tested for radon and that a radon hazard may exist. If the rental unit hasn’t been tested, a renter can conduct a do-it-yourself radon test or ask the owner to test by hiring a licensed radon contractor. If a renter conducts a radon test in the rental unit and results show high radon levels, the renter should inform the building owner in writing.
IEMA recommends that all rental units below the third floor be tested for radon.
This winter has been colder than normal in many parts of the country with extended periods when the temperatures stayed below freezing. As a result, many mitigators received phone calls from homeowners about problems with their mitigation systems. The symptoms are generally that the fan continues to run normally but the u-tube manometer gauge reads zero or the u-tube reading has dropped below its normal reading. The problem is caused by ice that has formed in the pipe, usually at the top. The ice is caused by condensation that forms inside the pipe from the air being drawn through the cold pipe.
Correcting the problem could entail disassembling the pipe to clear the ice. You could also possibly do nothing if the weather is expected to moderate. The warmth from the sun and the fan motor will eventually clear the ice.
How do you prevent the problem? It is a very tall order indeed and is not too easily accomplished. The problem occurs on systems with long lengths of pipe exposed to the cold temperatures so you can minimize the exterior pipe on a system. An interior pipe system will not freeze except perhaps in extreme climates. Using 4-inch pipe instead of 3-inch pipe will help minimize the possibility of the pipe freezing completely closed and using Schedule 40 pipe can also help by providing additional insulation from the cold. Insulating the exposed pipe will also help. You should also avoid the use of vent caps in cold climates, as the cap grates can easily freeze solid. Some mitigators will use black ABS pipe to absorb the solar energy or even add heat tape to the pipe.
I welcome any input from readers on other strategies to deal with the icing problem.
This year’s AARST Symposium introduced what turned out to be an exceedingly popular and well-received segment: “Houses from Radon Heck.” Mitigators and other radon professionals empathized and identified with the experiences presented by a panel of respected radon mitigators that included Jay Brown, Gary Hodgden, Deane Mickle and Jack Hughes.
The following is an excerpt from Jay Brown’s “Houses from Radon Heck.” Click to view story
IEMA study finds that 42 percent of homes tested in Illinois had excess levels of cancer-causing radon
SPRINGFIELD – Citing a state study that shows 42 percent of homes tested in Illinois had excess levels of radon, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today urged people to test their homes for the cancer-causing radioactive gas during Radon Action Month in January. The study, conducted by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, examined results from nearly 72,000 home tests conducted by professional contractors and homeowners between 2003 – 2007. Download PDF or read
“Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer overall, but it’s the leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers,” said Governor Blagojevich. “Fortunately, it’s a health risk that can be reduced by testing your home for radon, and taking action if the levels are too high. I urge everyone in Illinois to take a few moments in January to do a radon home test.”
Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas that comes from the radioactive decay of naturally occurring uranium in the soil. It can enter homes and buildings through small cracks in the foundation, sump pumps or soil in crawlspaces. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has determined that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the nation, behind smoking. However, among non-smokers, radon is the leading cause of cancer.
The National Academy of Sciences and the Surgeon General estimate that 21,000 radon-related lung cancer deaths occur annually in the United States, as many as 1,100 of those in Illinois.
Illinois Emergency Management Agency’s (IEMA) Radon program staff analyzed results from nearly 72,000 home radon tests conducted by professional contractors and homeowners from 2003-2007. Twenty-four counties had more than 50 percent of the homes tested with radon levels greater than 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L), the USEPA recommended action level. In another 34 counties, between 25-50 percent of the homes tested above that level. The remaining 44 counties had too few tests to provide a good picture of the radon potential in that area.
In a previous radon study released in September 2006, IEMA reported that 46 percent of more than 22,000 homes tested by professional radon measurement contractors in 2003 and 2004 had potentially unsafe levels of radon.
“As we found in our earlier report, this new study shows that close to half of the homes tested in Illinois have excessive radon levels,” said IEMA Director Andrew Velasquez III. “While
virtually all homes will have some amount of radon, there’s no way to know if your home has hazardous levels unless you test.”
During Radon Action Month, IEMA is offering 10,000 free radon test kits to encourage people to test their homes. Requests for the test kits can be submitted through IEMA’s Radon website at www.radon.illinois.gov or by calling the radon hotline at 1-800-325-1245. Test kits can also be purchased at local hardware and department stores. In addition, professional radon measurement contractors are licensed by IEMA to conduct radon tests. A list of measurement contractors by county is also available on the Radon website.
Velasquez said anyone who discovers their home has elevated levels of radon to contact a licensed radon mitigation professional to correct the problem. As with radon measurement
professionals, mitigation experts in Illinois are licensed by IEMA to ensure they have the proper equipment, specialized training and technical skills to do the job right and reduce radon in the home to safe levels. Depending on the home, radon mitigation can cost between $800-1,200.
As a life-long non-smoker, Barb Sorgatz of Glen Ellyn was surprised in 2007 when a CT scan following a gall bladder attack detected lung cancer. Through research on the Internet, Sorgatz earned that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in healthy people who have never smoked.
“When I tested my home for radon, I was surprised to learn the levels were five times the recommended USEPA levels,” said Sorgatz. “I hired a licensed contractor to install a radon
mitigation system that lowered the radon levels in my home to a safe level.”
Since Jan. 1, 2007, when the Illinois Radon Awareness Act took effect, home sellers are required to provide buyers with information about indoor radon exposure and the fact that
radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the second leading cause overall. The law doesn’t require that homes be tested for radon prior to the sale or that radon
remediation work be conducted if test results show high levels of radon. However, if a radon test has been conducted on the home those results must be provided to the buyer.
“Because radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, the American Lung Association of Illinois encourages all homeowners to test their homes for it,” said Harold
Wimmer, CEO of the American Lung Association of Illinois. “Americans spend about 87 percent of their time indoors, and the USEPA estimates that about a quarter of all radonrelated
lung cancers could be averted by lowering radon levels in homes to below 4 pCi/L of air.”
Radon survey county summary
Counties with more than 50 percent of homes with radon levels greater than 4 pCi/L
Counties with 25-50 percent of homes tested with radon levels greater than 4 pCi/L
Counties with less than 25 percent of homes tested with radon levels greater than 4 pCi/L
Counties with too few tests between January 2003-December 2007 to provide a good picture of the radon potential in that area