Alaskans working to develop radon database

Published: Feb. 12, 2018 at 11:34 AM AKST
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University researchers are working on developing a radon database to learn more about the gas's presence in Alaska.

The project is a partnership between the Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys and University of Alaska Fairbanks’ School of Natural Resources and Extension.

Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that is a byproduct from uranium, radium and thorium breakdown in rocks, soil and ground water.

Radon is also estimated to be the second leading cause of lung cancer, behind cigarette smoking.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates radon is responsible for 21,000 deaths each year, with nearly 3,000 of them occurring to people who have never smoked.

Jennifer Athey, a geologist for Alaska's Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, said the goal is to better map out where higher and lower levels of radon exist in the state.

"Right now there is very little information about radon in Alaska, we have some projects that were done in the '80s and then we've been collecting a little information here and there, but really we need much much more information," Athey said. "One of the problems with Alaska is that people are so concentrated along the rail belts and scattered into remote villages so it's hard to say especially in those outlying areas as more construction develops what the radon potential is going to be."

Athey said based on zip code information gathered previously by UAF and the Department Health and Social Services, hot spots include Fairbanks, Delta Junction, Healy and other parts of Interior Alaska.

Others include the Railbelt and Mat-Su areas.

Tyson Brauneis, with Radon Rescue 911, said he's been involved with testing homes for radon for close to 20 years.

Brauneis said he's seeing higher levels of radon than estimates by the U.S. EPA.

"Here in the Mat-Su Valley, Anchorage, Eagle River area we're seeing about 5 out of every 15 homes," Brauneis said.

The U.S. EPA estimates nearly 1 out of every 15 homes has elevated radon levels.

Brauneis recommends testing home radon levels every two years.

"We recommend in the state of Alaska having your home tested approximately every two years, even if you have a radon mitigation system, you should continue to have it tested every 2-5 years, (you want to) make sure that system's working (and) nothing has changed," Brauneis said.

Factors influencing radon levels include the actual presence of radon in the ground, a home's foundation to the ground, or a way for air to enter the home from the ground.

"Usually that happens because there are holes in the house or the slab or the cement block wall, that the air from the ground is seeping into the house. But it doesn't just seep in really, it's because the house is creating a negative pressure, particularly in the winter time because the heater is running so much that it's forcing air out of the house and that the negative pressure pulls in the air from the ground," Athey said.

Athey recommends Alaskans get their houses tested for radon levels and to make mitigation efforts.

"You can plug up those holes essentially, so if you have cracks in slab, use compound and put those into the cracks you can tape around holes in the plastic and there are people that specialize in radon mitigation so you would really call those folks and get kind of an assessment for their house," Athey said.

To find out how to get your home's radon level tested,