If there is a strange smell in your basement it may be musty odors from a moisture problem, a leaky gas pipe from a combustion appliance or just your teenagers gym socks. It is not radon gas. Radon gas is odorless, colorless, tasteless and radioactive.
Radon gas seeps into the home through radon entry points in the foundation. These entry points include cracks in the concrete slab, un-trapped floor drains, sump pits, plumbing penetrations, exposed dirt/gravel crawlspaces or even the pores of the concrete. Radon gas is the second leading cause for lung cancer according to the US EPA and kills more than 20,000 Americans per year.
Because you can’t smell radon gas, the only way to know if you have it in your home, office or school is to test for it. The National Environmental Health Association, NEHA/NRPP and the National Radon Safety Board, NRSB both have certification programs for radon measurement professionals. Many states including Illinois have their own radon licensing and certification programs. A radon measurement professional usually performs radon tests using continuous radon monitors to offer hour-by-hour radon measurement data. It is very important to use certified individuals to make certain that they follow the correct testing protocol and that their radon gas monitors are properly calibrated. It is too important of an issue to run the possibility of having false readings from faulty devices or incorrect protocol.
Another method to check your home for radon gas is to perform a do-it-yourself radon test. These test kits absorb or detect the radon gas passively. These radon kits are simple to use and will provide you with an overall average radon level during the period of time the test was deployed. Many online radon retailers and local hardware stores sell simple DIY radon test kits. You may even be able to purchase these DIY kits from your local health department or state radon contact.
The US EPA has determined the action level for radon gas to be at 4 pico-curies per liter and higher but no level of radon gas is considered safe. Elevated levels of radon gas can be resolved through the installation of a radon mitigation system. These radon vent systems prevent radon gas entry by creating a vacuum in the soil below the concrete slab. Radon mitigation systems should be installed by licensed or certified radon mitigation contractors. Radon mitigation systems involve highly technical processes to properly create a permanent vacuum in the soil under the home while minimizing the amount of indoor air they remove. Opening windows in the basement may help ventilate smelly teenagers rooms and musty odors but it may have no effect on minimizing radon gas levels and may create a stronger driving mechanism to pull radon gas into the home.
Next time you enter your basement think about testing for radon gas. Your home should be your safe haven and not your silent killer.