Steamboat Springs The second leading cause of lung caner in the United States can be found in about half of the homes in Steamboat Springs, and many residents are unaware it exists.
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that seeps from the ground. The only way to detect radon in your home is to perform a simple test.
Routt County Extension Agent Karen Massey has been handing out test kits and informing the public about the danger, but many homes in Steamboat remain untested and unprotected.
Massey said the radon danger is a part of the geography of Colorado, but there is no easy way to find which homes are at risk.
"The only way is to spend five dollars and five days to do the test," she said.
Radon test kits are available from the extension office in the Routt County Courthouse Annex on Sixth Street. A grant from the Environmental Protection Agency allowed Massey to distribute 200 of the tests for free. They now cost $5 from the office or less than $15 at most hardware stores.
The EPA recommends all Colorado homes be tested for radon. The gas can cause lung cancer in everyone, but smokers especially are susceptible.
Greg Pohlman, one of the few radon mitigation specialists in Northwest Colorado, said about half of the homes he tests in Steamboat have radon levels higher than recommended by federal guidelines.
"There's no rhyme or reason about which houses have high levels," Pohlman said. "I can test one house that has high levels, and next door they're fine."
Pohlman performs the radon tests and installs the systems to vent the gas. His two companies that perform the work are Complete Home Inspection Services LLC and Northwest Radon Mitigation Services.
From the bottom up
Radon is a byproduct of uranium decay, and it seeps out of the ground into any unprotected structure. The gas enters houses through joints in sub-basement floors, cracks, vents or any other permeable space. Radon levels are worst in the lowest points in homes, and homeowners should use the tests in those areas, Massey said.
Radon tests are little more than an envelope designed to capture traces of radon in the air. Once opened, the homeowner should hang the test in the lowest livable room in the house and wait three to five days before sealing the envelope and dropping the postage-paid package in the mail. The results take about three weeks to arrive, Massey said.
For faster results, Pohlman also uses an electronic measurement tool that can give immediate results.
If a home does have high radon levels, a radon mitigation system should be installed to vent the toxic gas from under the home outside above the roof.
Pohlman installs a variety of systems based on the type of home construction. The systems require that a hole be drilled in the foundation of the house, with a fan and pipe attached. Pohlman said the systems he installs typically range in price from $1,400 to $1,800 for basement systems, and $2,000 to $3,000 for crawlspace systems.
Pohlman said he has found home levels in Steamboat up to 100 picocuries/liter, far above the 4 pCi/L limit recommended by the EPA. Pohlman said an average reading usually is below 10 pCi/L.
Although all areas of Routt County potentially have high levels of radon, Pohlman said he has found especially high levels in Steamboat near Fish Creek Falls, where Uranium Mine Trail marks the site of former uranium mines.
Many people ask if radon levels can be tested before a house is built, but Pohlman said the only thing a home builder can do is install a preventative system as the structure is built, which may not be needed but always will be cheaper than if a system is installed after the construction is finished. Instead of several thousand dollars, Pohlman said, preventative systems cost several hundred dollars.
In a new building, sheets of plastic and ventilation areas can be added to allow any radon that escapes the ground to leave at the sub-level instead of traveling into the house.