Radon in Durango
You may have heard about radon in the news, that it is dangerous and quite pervasive in La Plata County. Should you be concerned about radon, and what can you do to protect yourself and family from radon in Durango?
What is Radon?
Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, radioactive noble gas that occurs naturally from radium decaying. Radon has the atomic number of 86, atomic mass of 222, and the most common isotope of radon has a halflife of 3.8 days. As a noble gas, radon isn’t very reactive with other elements. Because of its radioactivity and the fact that it is a gas, it is considered a health hazard in large concentrations.
Where Does it Come From?
Image Courtesy of Natural Resources Canada
Radon is produced by the decay of radium-226 which is found in uranium ores, shales, granite, gneiss, phosphate rocks, and to a smaller extent, common rocks like limestone. All soil in the world contains trace amounts of radium which slowly releases radon into the atmosphere in minuscule amounts. For those living in La Plata County the fact that radium is found in uranium, itself being a product of uranium’s natural decay, is a reason for the abnormal levels or radon found in the county. Durango was once home to a uranium mill used to produce uranium ore for the Manhattan Project. This mill continued to operate in one form or another, producing vanadium as well as uranium ore up to 1963. The uranium tailings from this mining operation were left out in exposed piles for years until the start of the cleanup process in the 60’s. Uranium tailings were removed from 1960-1989, with most of the actual moving of the tailings from 1978-1989. As there is still uranium ore in the hills surrounding Durango which raises the natural levels of radon above the national average.
How Dangerous is it?
The threat radon poses to your health depends on its concentration in your environment and home. On average the levels of radon outdoors is 0.4 pCi/L and is almost completely harmless. However the average, and low, level of radon in a home of 1.3 pCi/L has been estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency to cause 2 people in 1000 (0.2%), and as the concentration of radon increases so to does the risk of lung cancer.
The risk of lung cancer is greatly exacerbated by being a current or even a former smoker:
What Can be Done?
Obviously you don’t want to deal with higher than normal levels of radon in your home, radon is a heavy gas that tends to collect in buildings and there are ways to reduce your exposure to radon. The City of Durango adopted regulations at the start of 2016 requiring that builders place radon resistant and abatement measures in place for all new constructions while La Plata County is working towards adopting the same regulations as well. Radon mitigation is a common procedure down in durango by specialists, the cost varies depending on the amount of work that must be done to retrofit a system into a home. Some homes like the townhomes found in Three Springs have the infrastructure in place and only the hardware needs to be installed by a homeowner. Opening windows and letting in some fresh air is another way to lessen one’s exposure to radon.
Wendy Rice with the CSU extension office has test kits available for free and she recommends that you test your home for radon every 5 years. Wendy is located at 2500 Main Street and can be reached at 382-6461 for more information on radon and radon test kits.
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