January is National Radon Action Month.
This month, the Environmental Protection Agency is encouraging everyone to test their homes, schools and businesses for dangerous levels of radon. January is an ideal time for most people to test their homes and other buildings because windows to the outside should remain closed for accurate readings.
First discovered in 1900 by Fredrich E. Dorn, radon is an odorless, radioactive gas that results from the breakdown of uranium in rocks and soil. Because it is a carcinogen, radon can be dangerous when it accumulates in enclosed spaces such as basements; in fact, it is now the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Pennsylvanians face a particularly high risk due to the state’s geography, which happens to be on a foundation of rock. Out of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania, 53 are categorized into Zone 1 by the EPA, which means that homes and other enclosed areas probably have radon levels higher than four picocuries (4 pCi/L) and require corrective action.
Because of the prominence of radon in Pennsylvania, the PAR Standard Agreement for the Sale of Real Estate has a separate inspection for radon included in the list of inspections that can make or break the deal. Paragraph 12 permits buyers to elect to make the purchase of a property contingent on the results of a radon inspection. While homeowners can get a test kit from most home improvement stores for around $20-$30, the terms of PAR Form ASR require that all inspections be conducted by “properly licensed or otherwise qualified professionals.” This means that a buyer will have to hire a tester, and if necessary, a mitigator, who has been certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
The DEP maintains this list and updates it monthly with the names of individuals and businesses who are certified to test for radon and install mitigation systems if needed. In order for a person to become certified by the DEP, one must complete a course in radon management, pass an exam, have one year of professional radon measurement experience (or equivalent), show that their testing equipment has been properly calibrated, prove that they are proficient in operating the necessary equipment and take 16 hours of continuing education every two years.