Understanding Radon – The Invisible Threat and How Fort Collins is Fighting Back

Radon is an invisible threat that lurks in homes across Fort Collins and beyond. As an odorless, colorless gas that forms naturally from the decay of radioactive elements like uranium in soil and rock, radon seeps into buildings through cracks in foundations and floors. Prolonged exposure to elevated levels of radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, but many homeowners are unaware of the health risks. Fortunately, the city of Fort Collins and Larimer County are taking proactive steps to raise awareness and reduce radon exposure.

The Dangers of Radon Exposure

Radon gas from the ground can accumulate to dangerous levels inside homes and other buildings. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that radon causes over 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the U.S. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking and the number one cause among nonsmokers. The EPA has found high radon levels in homes across America regardless of geographic location or home type.

Radon decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in the lungs when inhaled. These particles release small bursts of energy that can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of 5 to 25 years of exposure. There is no safe level of radon since lung cancer risk increases as exposure increases. The EPA recommends taking action to fix radon levels at or above 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L).

Why Fort Collins is at Risk

Several factors put Fort Collins at higher risk for elevated indoor radon levels. Uranium-rich granite formations underground produce radon gas that can more easily flow through the sandy, gravelly soils prevalent in this region. Cracks and openings in the foundations of homes and buildings provide entry points for radon. Cooler temperatures in Colorado homes during winter months decrease air pressure indoors and draw radon gas in from the soil.

Fort Collins also has a large number of homes built before current building codes required preventative measures like proper sealing, ventilation, and radon-resistant construction techniques. Older homes are more likely to have higher radon levels. According to the city, around 75% of Fort Collins homes and apartments were built before 1990. Testing is the only way to know if a pre-1990 home has dangerous radon accumulation.

The City’s Radon Program

The city of Fort Collins Utilities Department launched the Indoor Radon Program in 2007 to protect residents from radon exposure. The program focuses on education, testing, mitigation, and building code upgrades.

Educational resources aim to raise awareness about radon risks and testing. The city distributes EPA radon information and maintains a phone line and website where residents can get questions answered by radon experts.

Free short-term radon test kits are available for pick up at local libraries so homeowners can measure radon levels in their homes. The city offers waived permit fees and technical support to encourage radon mitigation system installation when elevated levels are found.

For new construction, Fort Collins was one of the first cities in Colorado to adopt the International Residential Code (IRC) Appendix F in 2008. This established strict radon-resistant construction requirements for new homes like sealed foundations, vent piping, and passive sub-slab depressurization systems. Upgraded 2018 IRC building codes now require even more protective radon-resistant techniques in new Fort Collins homes.

Larimer County Initiatives

Larimer County Department of Health and Environment complements the city’s efforts with additional outreach programs and services centered around radon risks.

Health educators give presentations on radon health effects and testing recommendations to local organizations like Rotary clubs and homeowners associations. They also train real estate and medical professionals to better inform clients and patients about radon exposure prevention.

Along with discounted test kits, the county offers a financial assistance program to help residents pay for radon mitigation systems if they cannot afford the $800 to $2500 cost. Income-qualified homeowners can receive grants covering 75% of system installation expenses.

Larimer County tracks and compiles radon data like test results and new diagnoses of radon-induced lung cancer. This helps target awareness efforts to higher risk areas like specific neighborhoods. The county health department also approves and inspects radon mitigation system installations done by certified radon contractors.

Reducing the Threat through Testing and Mitigation

Radon gas is easy to detect and simple to mitigate with proper testing and preventative measures in homes. The Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend all homeowners test for radon.

Testing is quick, easy and inexpensive. Homeowners can purchase short-term radon test kits for under $25 and open/close them in the home for 2-7 days before mailing them to a lab for analysis. Or hire a certified tester to do long-term testing for the most accurate results. Retest every 2 years or after major home renovations.

If test results show radon levels at or above 4 pCi/L, contact a certified radon mitigation contractor right away to estimate system installation costs and options. Most homes require active sub-slab depressurization where a fan and vent pipes are used to draw radon from below the foundation before it can enter the home and pump it safely above the roof where it dissipates. Sealing foundation cracks is also key. This can lower interior radon levels by up to 99%.

Take Action to Breathe Easier

Radon may be invisible, but its health consequences are very real. This hazardous gas silently invades homes and increases cancer risks with every breath. Fortunately, Fort Collins has proactive programs informing and enabling residents to detect and reduce home radon risks through proper testing, mitigation, and preventative building standards.

Concerned homeowners can utilize city and county radon resources to check their homes, make improvements, and protect family health. Taking action against radon exposure today helps reduce lung cancer cases tomorrow. Together we can dissipate this invisible threat.

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