You can’t see it or smell it, but radon gas might be at unsafe levels in your home. This colorless, odorless radioactive gas is found throughout Southwest Colorado thanks to the natural decay of uranium in our soils. This winter, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) encourages all residents of the region to keep themselves safe by testing for radon with a free test kit provided by SJBPH.

Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the second-leading cause overall. About 21,000 people die every year in the United States because of lung cancer caused by radon in their home or business. The only way to understand your risk of exposure and how to protect yourself is to conduct a certified radon test. You can’t draw any conclusions from testing done in a neighbor’s home or from testing done in other units in your building.

Fortunately, testing for radon is easy, and mitigation projects can bring your radon readings down to safe levels for far less money than other major home repairs. Winter is the ideal time to test for radon because doors and windows tend to stay closed, trapping radon inside, and because frozen ground prevents radon from being vented directly to the atmosphere. Instead, it finds its way through cracks in your foundation or through your crawlspace into the air you and your family breathe every day.

A short-term radon test takes three days and is easy to set up. You write down some information about how, when, and where the test was run and mail it to a professional laboratory in a pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelope. About a week later, you get your results by email or by visiting the lab’s website.

The Environmental Protection Agency has published an “action level” of 4 picocuries per liter as the radon measurement at which residents would benefit from mitigation. If your short-term test is below this level, it’s a good idea to re-test every four or five years, or after remodeling the home.

Above 4 picocuries per liter, SJPBH recommends a follow-up test. Long-term tests run three to twelve months and measure the impact of your habits on your radon levels throughout the year- how often your doors and windows are open, how radon levels change in hot and cold weather, and many other factors. If your follow-up test reads more than 4 picocuries per liter, you should consider radon mitigation.

Radon mitigation is never required in existing structures, but it can literally save your life. Mitigation looks slightly different in every home, but always consists of redirecting airflow from under the home into a vent pipe that releases radon harmlessly into the atmosphere without the deadly gas ever entering your breathing space.

To get a free short-term or long-term test kit, attend our free radon workshops next week: Wednesday, February 6th at 6 PM at the Archuleta County Extension Office; or Thursday, February 7th at 5:30 PM at the SJBPH Durango office. If you miss our workshops, stop by the SJBPH offices in Durango during our walk-in hours on Thursday afternoons any week in February, March or April, or make an appointment during business hours at either of our office locations by emailing eh@sjbpublichealth.org.

Our goal is to distribute as many tests as possible and give the community the confidence to use them correctly. With your help, we can ensure homes and businesses across our region stay safe from this major health risk.

Brian Devine is the Water and Air Quality Program Manager at SJBPH