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Radon

What is radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas that has been found in homes all over the United States. It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe. Radon typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Radon can also enter your home through well water. Your home can trap radon inside. You cannot see, smell, or taste radon. But it still may be a problem in your home. When you breathe air containing radon, you increase your risk of getting lung cancer. In fact, the Surgeon General of the United States has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.

I'm selling my home, What should I do?
If you are thinking of selling your home and you have already tested your home for radon, provide your test results to the buyer.

If your home has not yet been tested for radon, have a test taken as soon as possible. If you can, test your home before putting it on the market. You should test in the lowest level of the home which is suitable for occupancy. This means testing in the lowest level that you currently live in or a lower level not currently used, but which a buyer could use for living space without renovations.

I'm Buying a Home. What Should I Do?
If the Home Has Already Been Tested for Radon you may decide to accept the earlier test result from the seller, or ask the seller for a new test to be conducted. Before you accept the seller's test, you should determine:

  • The results of previous testing;
  • Who conducted the previous test: the homeowner, a radon professional, or some other person;
  • Where in the home the previous test was taken, especially if you may plan to live in a lower level of the home. For example, the test may have been taken on the first floor. However, if you want to use the basement as living space, test there.
  • What, if any, structural changes, alterations, or changes in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system have been made to the house since the test was done. Such changes may affect radon levels.

If you decide that a new test is needed, discuss it with the seller as soon as possible.

If the Home Has Not Yet Been Tested for Radon, make sure that a radon test is done as soon as possible. Consider including provisions in the contract specifying:

  • Where the test will be located
  • Who should conduct the test
  • How the seller and the buyer will share the test results and test costs (if necessary)
  • When radon mitigation measures will be taken and who will pay for them.

Make sure that the test is done in the lowest level of the home suitable for occupancy. This means the lowest level that you are going to use as living space which is finished or does not require renovations prior to use. Home Inspections Plus LLC can help you make some of these decisions.

If you decide to finish or renovate an unfinished area of the home in the future, a radon test should be taken before starting the project and after the project is finished. Generally, it is less expensive to install a radon-reduction system before (or during) renovations rather than afterwards. EPA recommends that you take action to reduce your home's indoor radon levels if your radon test result is 4 pCi/L or higher. It is better to correct a radon problem before placing your home on the market because then you have more time to address a radon problem.

If elevated levels are found during the real estate transaction, the buyer and seller should discuss the timing and costs of the radon reduction. The cost of making repairs to reduce radon levels depends on how your home was built and other factors. Most homes can be fixed for about the same cost as other common home repairs, like painting or having a new hot water heater installed. The average cost for a contractor to lower radon levels in a home can range from $800 to about $2,000.

Select a qualified radon-reduction contractor to reduce the radon levels in your home. Any mitigation measures taken or system installed in your home must conform to your state's regulations. In states without regulations covering mitigation, the system should conform to EPA's Radon Mitigation Standards.

EPA recommends that the mitigation contractor review the radon measurement results before beginning and radon-reduction work. Test again after the radon mitigation work has been completed to confirm that previous elevated levels have been reduced. EPA recommends that the test be conducted by an independent qualified radon tester.

For more information visit these Web Sites:

EPA's main radon page.
Includes links to the NAS radon report, radon-resistant new construction, the map of radon zones, radon publications, hotlines and more.

Wisconsin Radon Contacts.
State Radon Contacts. Provides detailed information on contacting Wisconsin's radon office, including links to some state web sites. State indoor air quality contacts are also included.

EPA's Radon Publications.
Offers the full text version of EPA's most popular radon publications, including the Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction, the Citizen's Guide to Radon, and the Model Standards and Techniques for Control of Radon in New Residential Buildings, and others.

Mold

The best way to deal with mold is to understand mold and how it occurs. Molds live in the soil, on plants, and on dead or decaying matter. Outdoors, molds play a key role in the breakdown of leaves, wood, and other plant debris. Without molds, our environment would be overwhelmed with large amounts of dead plant matter.

Molds produce tiny spores to reproduce, just as some plants produce seeds. These mold spores can be found in both indoor and outdoor air, and settled on indoor and outdoor surfaces. When mold spores land on a damp spot, they may begin growing and digesting whatever they are growing on in order to survive.

Moisture control is the key to mold control. Molds need both food and water to survive; since molds can digest most things, water is the factor that limits mold growth. Molds will often grow in damp or wet areas indoors. Common sources or causes of water or moisture problems include roof leaks, deferred maintenance, condensation associated with high humidity, localized flooding, slow leaks in plumbing fixtures, and malfunction or poor design of humidification systems. It is important to dry water damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth. If mold is a problem in your home, clean up the mold and get rid of the excess water or moisture. Wash mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely. Absorbent materials (such as ceiling tiles & carpet) that become moldy may have to be replaced. When moisture problems occur and mold growth results, building occupants may begin to report odors and a variety of health problems, such as headaches, breathing difficulties, skin irritation, allergic reactions, and aggravation of asthma symptoms; all of these symptoms could potentially be associated with mold exposure.

All molds have the potential to cause health effects. Molds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, toxins that may cause reactions in humans. The types and severity of symptoms depend, in part, on the types of mold present, the extent of an individual's exposure, the ages of the individuals, and their existing sensitivities or allergies.

For more information visit this Web Site:

EPA's main mold page.
Includes information about mold and how to handle clean up situations.

Asbestos

What is Asbestos?
The term "asbestos" has been given to six naturally occurring mineral fibers that have been used for commercial purposes. It can be found in hundreds of countries on just about every continent. These very fine fibers are separable, hundreds of times thinner than human hairs, and too small to be seen with the naked eye. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines fibers of concern as at least five micrometers long and at least three times as long as their diameters. For a frame of reference, mineralogists work with fibers as much as a thousand times as long as their diameters.

Types of Asbestos
The six recognized asbestos minerals, which are considered silicates (molecules that include silicon and oxygen), include:

  • Chrysotile - (Also known as white or green asbestos, from the Greek word meaning "fine, silky hair") Appears as curly, whitish fibers and constitutes 95 percent of the asbestos in use. Chrysotile is mined throughout the world, but most of the United State's chrysotile supply comes from Canada, Africa, and former USSR. Scientists believe this to be the least toxic of all asbestos forms.
  • Crocidolite - (Also known as riebeckite or blue asbestos) Composed of straight fibers, most crocidolite comes from southern Africa and Australia. It is believed to be the most toxic form of all asbestos minerals.
  • Amosite - (Also known as cummingtonite-grunerite or brown asbestos) The trade name "amosite" is an acronym for Asbestos Mines of South Africa, after the Amosa mines. Amosite is also straight in shape, but brittle in structure and excellent for use in heat insulation.
  • Anthophyllite - This form of asbestos is brittle, white, and contains various forms of iron. It has been found to have excellent resistance to chemicals and heat.
  • Tremolite - In rough form, tremolite appears white and chalky. Tremolite can also be naturally found in other mineral forms aside from asbestiform. It has been the major ingredient in industrial and commercial talc.
  • Actinolite - Typically prismatic, flat in structure, and elogated. Actinolite also comes in forms other than asbestiform and has poor resistance to chemicals.

Where can Naturally Occurring Asbestos be Found?
Though asbestos can be found throughout the United States, a map compiled from a U.S. Geological Survey database of records, along with literature on the history of asbestos mining, shows a strong band of asbestos deposits running down the eastern shoulder of the Appalachian Mountains from northern New Jersey through northern Georgia and into Alabama. In Fairfax County, Virginia, a total of eleven square miles is underlain with naturally occurring asbestos. The county has set up specific procedures in monitoring and reporting requirements for construction in the area. Another strip of asbestos deposits can be found running up the middle of Vermont and stretching into Maine. Clusters can be found in (but are not limited to) Michigan's Upper Peninsula, throughout the Rocky Mountains, across Northern and Central Washington, in Northeast and Southwest Oregon, and a high concentration is found north of Tucson, Arizona. Many deposits are located in California along fault lines, the Sierra foothills, the Klamath Mountains, and the Coast Ranges of California. California is also home to one of the largest asbestos deposits in the world, which is located within the Clear Creek Management Area.

Why is Asbestos Used?
The mineral's innate resistance to heat and fire is what has made asbestos so valuable in both industrial and domestic products. Another valuable feature is its reluctance to conduct electricity. The fibers are fine, flexible and can be spun into thread and woven into cloth that is flameproof, difficult to tear, and carries excellent insulation properties. It is virtually indestructible by heat, salt water, corrosive chemicals (especially alkalies), and any chemical or biological process. The fibers mix well into other materials, such as asphalt or cement, and make such products stronger, more flexible, and fire-retardant. They do not dissolve or evaporate with water, which makes the light fibers easy to mix.

Why is Asbestos so Dangerous?
The fact that asbestos is composed of readily separated fibers is what contributes to the easy inhalation and ingestion of asbestos. The shape of these fibers reacts negatively with human tissue and biological processes. When inhaled or swallowed, these fibers can become lodged in the tissues of the linings of organs, most commonly the lungs and digestive system. Over time, the lodged fibers cause inflammation and cellular damage, which can eventually lead to a variety of terminal diseases. Even though the dangers of asbestos have been recognized since antiquity, the caustic mineral was used to make a number of products, many of which were commonly found in the home. Today, the use of asbestos in the United States is more regulated, but most U.S. residents are under the impression that asbestos was banned in the late-1980s. The Environmental Protection Agency tried to enforce a ban in 1989, but the ban was thrown out by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1991. Asbestos is known to cause asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestos exposure increases the risk of gastrointestinal, colorectal, throat, kidney, esophagus, and gallbladder cancer. Those who suspect they may have been exposed to asbestos should speak with a doctor to be medically assessed for asbestos exposure.

For more information visit this Web Site:

EPA's main asbestos page.
Includes information about asbestos and its health affects.

Radium

What is radium?
Radium is a naturally radioactive, silvery-white metal when freshly cut. It blackens on exposure to air. Purified radium and some radium compounds glow in the dark (luminesce). The radiation emitted by radium can also cause certain materials, called "phosphors" to emit light. Mixtures of radium salts and appropriate phosphors were widely used for clock dials and gauges before the risks of radium exposure were understood. Metallic radium is highly chemically reactive. It forms compounds that are very similar to barium compounds, making separation of the two elements difficult.

The various isotopes of radium originate from the radioactive decay of uranium or thorium. Radium-226 is found in the uranium-238 decay series, and radium-228 and -224 are found in the thorium-232 decay series.

Radium-226, the most common isotope, is an alpha emitter, with accompanying gamma radiation, and has a half-life of about 1600 years. Radium-228, is principally a beta emitter and has a half-life of 5.76 years. Radium-224, an alpha emitter, has a half life of 3.66 days. Radium decays to form isotopes of the radioactive gas radon, which is not chemically reactive. Stable lead is the final product of this lengthy radioactive decay series.

Where is radium found?
The highest radium levels in water are found in water drawn from two rock formations; the deep sandstone of Wisconsin's eastern quarter and the crystalline granite rock of north-central Wisconsin.

Immediate health risks from drinking water containing low radioactivity levels are small, but consuming this water for a lifetime increases the health risks. Another natural radioactive element, uranium, has been detected in a few Wisconsin wells. Currently there is no drinking water standard for uranium.

Currently, approximately 50 of Wisconsin's 1,300 community water systems exceed the drinking water standard for radium. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is providing guidance to help water system officials take corrective action to safeguard the environment as well as human health. Efforts are underway to identify the best methods of reducing radium in drinking water and disposing the wastes from treatment processes.

Where is radium a problem?
All rock contains some radium, usually in small amounts. Groundwater, which moves slowly through the pores or cracks in underground layers of rock, dissolves minerals as it travels. Where the rock contains significant amounts of radium, and the groundwater moves at a slow enough rate, the water can pick up higher amounts of radium.

In Wisconsin, most of the community water supplies which exceed the radium standard draw water from a deep sandstone aquifer and are located in a narrow band which stretches from Green Bay to the Illinois state line. In addition, a few high radium levels have been found in groundwater from sandstone formations in west central Wisconsin and in granite formations in north central Wisconsin. In all cases, the radium was there long before the first well was drilled.

How is radium in drinking water monitored?
By law, all community water systems must be monitored for radioactivity. The testing process for water samples begins with a screening for "gross alpha particle activity" which measures the total amount of one type of radioactivity given off by the water. If gross alpha activity is found, further testing for radium is conducted. Radioactivity levels are measured in "picocuries" per liter of water (abbreviated "pCi/l"). The state drinking water standard is five pCi/l for the combined total of two forms of radium, Radium-226 and Radium- 228. The standard applies to levels in the water distribution system, as determined quarterly and averaged over a one-year period.

What are the health risks from radium?
Radium emits several different kinds of radiation, in particular, alpha particles and gamma rays. Alpha particles are generally only harmful if emitted inside the body. However, both internal and external exposure to gamma radiation is harmful. Gamma rays can penetrate the body, so gamma emitters like radium can result in exposures even when the source is a distance away.

Long-term exposure to radium increases the risk of developing several diseases. Inhaled or ingested radium increases the risk of developing such diseases as lymphoma, bone cancer, and diseases that affect the formation of blood, such as leukemia and aplastic anemia. These effects usually take years to develop. The National Academy of Sciences has concluded that a long-term exposure to elevated levels of radium in drinking water does indeed pose a "higher risk of bone cancer for the people exposed." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that long-term consumption of water containing five pCi/l radium will cause 44 added cancer deaths for every million people exposed. The risk doubles to 88 per million at 10 pCi/l, triples to 132 at 15 pCi/l, etc.

External exposure to radium's gamma radiation increases the risk of cancer to varying degrees in all tissues and organs. However, the greatest health risk from radium is from exposure to its radioactive decay product radon. It is common in many soils and can collect in homes and other buildings.

What about private wells?
Generally, private wells are not drilled into the deeper geologic formations containing higher concentrations of radium. Nevertheless, radium has been found in a small number of private and noncommunity public wells.

A geological and geographical cross-section of Wisconsin's private wells has now been tested for radium. Concerned owners whose wells have not been tested can contact their regional DNR office, which may be able to estimate groundwater radioactivity levels from previous well samplings. DNR staff will need well construction and location details to make this determination. Water samples can be analyzed for signs of radioactivity by private laboratories or the State Laboratory of Hygiene.

Private well owners wishing to reduce radium levels by reconstructing or replacing wells (the preferred methods) should seek DNR guidance on construction details. A good alternate groundwater supply is the most important factor with these options. In some cases, forming a community system or connecting to an existing system may be feasible.

How is radium treated in private wells?
Of the treatment methods described earlier, ion exchange using zeolite softening is effective for home use. Radium, however, could get past a softener which is improperly maintained. Owners need to check softeners regularly to assure that they are operating properly. These home units also build up wastes that need to be properly disposed, and will increase sodium levels in water.

Small "reverse osmosis" units and distillation units may be effective in radium removal in home systems, but the units have limited capacity and severely restrict water flow. The devices can only be used to treat water from a single faucet rather than the entire water supply. Additionally, other water quality problems such as high iron or manganese may interfere with these treatment methods.

For more information visit these Web Sites:

EPA's main radium page.
Includes information about radium and its health affects.

Wisconsin DNR radium page.
Includes information about radium in drinking water.

Lead

What is lead?
Lead is a heavy, ductile, soft gray solid. It is soluble in dilute nitric acid; insoluble in water but dissolves slowly in water containing a weak acid; resists corrosion; relatively impenetrable to radiation. It is also a poor electrical conductor; good sound and vibration absorber and is non-combustible.

Lead is found in lead-based paint, contaminated soil, dust, and drinking water. It has been used for plumbing pipes and fixtures and was used in glass and pottery.

What are the health risks from lead?
Lead affects practically all systems within the body. Lead at high levels (lead levels at or above 80 micrograms per deciliter of blood) can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. Lower levels of lead can cause adverse health effects on the central nervous system, kidney, and blood cells. Blood lead levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter can impair mental and physical development.

The effects of lead exposure on fetuses and young children can be severe. They include delays in physical and mental development, lower IQ levels, shortened attention spans, and increased behavioral problems. Fetuses, infants, and children are more vulnerable to lead exposure than adults since lead is more easily absorbed into growing bodies, and the tissues of small children are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

Children may have higher exposures since they are more likely to get lead dust on their hands and then put their fingers or other lead-contaminated objects into their mouths.

Steps to Reduce Exposure to Lead

  • Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible.
  • Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition; do not sand or burn off paint that may contain lead.
  • Do not remove lead paint yourself.
  • Do not bring lead dust into the home.
  • If your work or hobby involves lead, change clothes and use doormats before entering your home.
  • Eat a balanced diet, rich in calcium and iron.

Are you planning to buy or rent a home built before 1978?
Many houses and apartments built before 1978 have paint that contains lead (called lead-based paint). Lead from paint, chips, and dust can pose serious health hazards if not taken care of properly. Federal law requires that individuals receive certain information before renting or buying a pre-1978 housing:

  • LANDLORDS have to disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before leases take effect. Leases must include a disclosure form about lead-based paint.
  • SELLERS have to disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before selling a house. Sales contracts must include a disclosure form about lead-based paint. Buyers have up to ten days to check for lead hazards.

For more information visit these Web Sites:

EPA's main lead page.
Includes information about lead and its health affects.

EPA IAQ lead page.
Includes information about indoor air quality and lead.

US Government lead information page.
Includes information about lead and its health affects.