Radon May Be Radioactive And Cause Cancer, But Can It Set Off Alarms In A Nuclear Power Plant?

By Jani Palmer

There’s a lot that you can do for your health. Me, I’m going to live forever. I eat my veggies, take vitamins, exercise, buy organic, avoid chemicals, use a pleated air filter and drink green tea. Know what else you should be thinking about? Well, last year I wrote about how I tested my home,  remember? Thirty some years ago, testing for radon wasn’t on the list of things to do for a healthy home and body. When I was a kid, my parents certainly weren’t testing for radon.

Why did I test my home? Simple; I think about Stanley Watras and his family. Stanley Watras worked as a construction engineer building the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant in Pennsylvania. As he entered the facility one day, he set off the radiation alarm. How this happened was a mystery since no radioactive material had yet been brought into the plant. Investigators searched for the source and finally decided to test his home for radon. Incredibly, the amount of radon to which Mr. Watras was exposed at home (photo below) was sufficient to activate radiation alarms in a nuclear power plant. The radon level in my home was about 6 pCi/L; the level in Stanley Watras’ home averaged 2,700 pCi/L.

While the radon level in my home wasn’t setting off any radiation alarms, it was still considered high. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends action to reduce radon if the radon level in your home is 4 pCi/L or higher.

Testing your home is the first step, but it’s not going to change anything unless you take action. If the radon in Stanley Watras’ home can be reduced from 2,700 pCi/L to under 4 pCi/L, then so can yours. Visit EPA’s radon home page for more insight, including how to find a qualified radon service professional to test or mitigate your home, and how to build a new home with radon-resistant features .

About the author: Jani Palmer is a physical scientist in EPA’s Center for Radon and Air Toxics, Indoor Environments Division. She has been in the indoor air quality and industrial hygiene field for more than 10 years providing environmental consulting and services for school districts, industry and public agencies.

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