Radon is long-term health risk, says Glastonbury health director

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Apr. 11, 2013
Glastonbury Radon
Glastonbury Health Director David Boone speaks about the dangers of radon gas on April 10. Photos by Steve Smith.

Health Director David Boone said Glastonbury has some of the highest levels of radon in the state, but that most residents needn't be alarmed. Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally, and can't be seen, smelled or tasted. Radon enters a home typically through the basement. It exists in soil and bedrock, where it migrates up from uranium in the ground. It also travels via well water.

Radon isn't toxic in the same way carbon monoxide is, Boone said, but its effects are seen very long term, similar to a person who smokes for years or decades.

“The ultimate health outcome that's a problem is lung cancer,” Boone said. “The health risk comes from a long exposure over time.”

Radon is typically measured in picocuries per liter (pCi/L) and living in a home with 4 or more pCi/L is the equivalent health risk of smoking a pack of cigarettes per day, based on a lifetime of exposure. Boone said houses tested for radon will surely register some, as naturally-occurring radon in the outdoors is about .5 pCi/L, and homes typically trap gases, especially in basements.

Most people find radon in their homes when they are preparing to sell their house. "The people who are interested in looking at your house are going to want to know if you've ever tested for radon,” Boone said.

“Winter is the best time to test for radon,” Boone said, “because houses are closed up and the concentration of gas in the house is higher.”

Houses exceeding the limit of 4 pCi/L, Boone said, should not cause the owner alarm, but it also should not be ignored.
“Glastonbury is probably one of the hottest towns in the state for radon gas in well water,” Boone said, citing a study in the 1990s which showed several Glastonbury neighborhoods that tested higher than others. “The numbers that were coming back were pretty scary. The EPA and home inspectors will tell you that water can hold a lot more radon gas than air can. For drinking water, there shouldn't be more than 5,000 picocuries per liter in water. What we were seeing in Glastonbury, the average was like 20,000.”

Boone said the town looked into the matter and found that safety levels are different for water by a ratio of about 10,000 to 1, and that the health risks come from breathing radon, not ingesting it. But, Boone said, it is another way radon gets into one's house.

“The health risk is from the air, not the water,” he said. “If you have 20,000 picocuries in your water, we would say you could have two picocuries in your air. On the other hand, if you have 60,000 in your water, that could give you 6 in your air.”

Boone said homeowners should seek professional help for testing and remediation of radon in the air and water. He recommends an aeration system which bubbles air through the water and radon gas gets released to the outside.

The reason Glastonbury is so “radon hot” is because of a few pockets of naturally-occurring radioactive minerals. Radon, he said, is “pretty much everywhere in Connecticut,” and the Connecticut River valley is generally very low, but where there are ridges and hills, like along a line from Glastonbury's southwest to northeast corners, those minerals tend to be higher.

For more information, contact the Glastonbury Health Department at 860-652-7534.

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