Radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas that is colorless, tasteless, and odorless but can cause serious health problems. Radon gas is formed from the breakdown of uranium in soil, rocks, and water. Outdoors, radon disperses quickly and is usually not a health issue. Most radon exposure occurs inside homes, schools and workplaces. Radon gas becomes trapped indoors after it enters buildings through cracks in the foundation, basement walls, gaps around service pipes, and sump pumps. Breathing radon over time increases your risk of lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, behind smoking. Nationally, the EPA estimates that about 21,000 people die each year from radon-related lung cancer.
Radon is found throughout the United States and can fluctuate widely from one home to another. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created a Map of Radon Zones that estimates the relative levels of radon that may be present in homes. Elkhart County is in Zone 1, meaning the area is at the highest risk of radon exposure. Click here for a radon zone map of Indiana.
Most radon exposure occurs in the home, where people spend the most time. Because radon has no taste, smell, or color, a home must be tested to find out how much radon is in the air. Testing is the only way to determine radon levels.
Short term radon screening testing is simple and inexpensive. Kits can be purchased at hardware and home improvement stores for around $15. Be sure to follow the directions on the kit. You also can hire a qualified tester to do a long term radon test for you.
Radon is measured in picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L), a measurement of radioactivity. There is no safe level for radon, but the EPA recommends fixing homes that have levels at or above 4 pCi/L. It is estimated that 1 in every 15 U.S. homes has radon levels greater than 4 pCi/L.
If radon levels are high, contact a certified radon service professional to fix your home. Usually, radon problems are fixed using an underground ventilation system or by increasing the rate of air changes in the building.
Visit the State of Indiana’s Professional licensing site to find a licensed radon tester or mitigator in your area.
Molds are fungi that are found almost everywhere. More than likely you are breathing mold spores right now! Molds grow throughout the environment, inside and out, in soils, on food, on plants, and even on building materials when moisture is present. Molds occur naturally in the environment and are necessary decomposers of organic matter. (Cheese and penicillin are both products of mold.) There are various colors of mold including white, green, black, and orange. They reproduce by releasing microscopic spores that spread easily in the air and can enter a home or building through windows, doors, cracks, and vents.
There are many types of mold and all of them need water or moisture to grow. When there is too much moisture in buildings or on building materials, mold growth frequently happens, especially if the moisture problem remains unaddressed. So the key to avoiding mold growth inside homes and the workplace is by keeping them dry and maintaining them.
There are no federal, state or local regulations that require mold to be cleaned up or addresses how much mold a person can be exposed to. The Elkhart County Health Department provides the following guidance:
Mold needs three things to survive – a surface to land on, food to eat, and water. Of all the things needed, water is the most important. Removing moisture is the most effective way of stopping mold growth.
The following are recommendations to prevent and eliminate indoor mold problems:
If you are allergic to mold or suffer from asthma you should not attempt to clean up the mold and leave the home or workplace while the clean-up occurs.
Mold affects each person differently. Some individuals who are allergic to mold may be more sensitive to mold exposure than those who are not allergic.
For those sensitive to mold, the symptoms can include wheezing or difficulty breathing, nasal and sinus congestion, eye and skin irritation, sore throat, sneezing or a dry cough. Other more severe symptoms may include headaches, memory loss, flu-like symptoms, upper respiratory infections and asthma attacks.
Some individuals may be at a greater risk of becoming sick from being exposed to indoor mold growth. These individuals include: infants and children, elderly people, individuals with asthma and allergies, immune compromised individuals (i.e. people with HIV infection, chemotherapy patients, organ transplant recipients). If you believe you are ill because of exposure to mold in the building where you live or work, you should see a physician to determine the proper actions to take to protect your health.
Generally, it is not necessary to identify the type of mold growing in a home, and the CDC does not recommend sampling for molds. Reliable sampling is expensive and the standards for what is and is not an acceptable level of mold have not been established.