Testing water for radon is vital for your health

YORK, Maine — State Representative Patty Hymanson has lived in her family’s home near the York River for about 35 years, but it wasn’t until two years ago that she discovered through testing that the water in his house contained dangerous levels of radon.

Hymanson, a neurologist, has since installed mitigation systems that reduce radon in the home’s air and water systems. Now she wants to educate members of her community about the health risks associated with high levels of radon, a chemical you can’t see or smell – and which is the second leading cause of lung cancer overall and the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.

Hymanson is calling on fellow Mainers to more consistently test for ubiquitous harmful chemicals. People often test for radon when buying a new home, but that’s not enough, she said.

“Somebody who’s been there, even for 10 years…they should know how to test…this needs to be repeated because people forget about it,” Hymanson said.

Radon can be found all over, but Maine has higher levels compared to many other states, and more than a third Radon test results in Maine were at or above the level where the Environmental Protection Agency recommends action.

More than half of Maine residents depend on a private well for their drinking water, and one in 10 wells in Maine having too much arsenic, uranium, radon or other chemicals harmful to humans, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the American Lung Association.

Rep. Patty Hymanson's radon mitigation system is seen in the basement of her home in York, Maine, January 6, 2022.

About 21,000 people die from lung cancer each year due to radon, including about 2,900 people who have never smoked, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Radon is particularly harmful to humans by inhalation or by bathing, washing clothes and flushing toilets with toxic water.

A map of airborne radon levels by county in Maine.  The EPA recommends that homes testing at 4 pCi/L or higher take steps to reduce exposure levels, and that homes testing between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L consider taking action.  Figure B shows the percentage of households whose radon in the air is equal to or greater than 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L), among the households tested.

Since Hymanson made the discovery in her own home, she said she now sees how important it is to keep water systems as clean as possible and to protect the overall health and safety of the community.

“It makes you more aware of environmental concerns,” she said.

January is National Radon Action Month, an effort to raise public awareness of the health risks of radon.

Hymanson said Maine should do more to provide low-income households with funds to test and mitigate radon, as well as raise awareness through a public health campaign.

Because the state hasn’t done enough to address this problem, Hymanson said, people need to take matters into their own hands and know that there are effective solutions.

“The installation process for the air and water systems was seamless,” Hymanson said.

Rep. Patty Hymanson admires the view of the York River at her home in York, Maine on January 6, 2022.

Testing and mitigation

Do-it-yourself radon test kits from local labs and hardware stores usually costs around $30 to $40, according to the Maine CDC. If your test shows levels at or above 4 picocuries per liter, the EPA recommends taking steps to mitigate.

Rep. Patty Hymanson's well water radon mitigation system is seen in the basement of her home in York, Maine, January 6, 2022.

To reduce radon levels in your water, there are two water treatment systems: the carbon filter and aeration.

The CDC recommends that homes with moderate and non-high levels of radon use a granular activated carbon water treatment system, which costs about $1,500.

The CDC recommends the venting system, which is what Hymanson uses, for homes with higher radon levels. The system costs around $5,000 and can reduce radon in water between 85% and 99% using a fan that mixes water and air inside a plastic tank and then exhausts the air and radon outdoors.

To reduce radon in the air, the CDC recommends active sub-slab depressurization, sub-membrane depressurization, or a heat recovery ventilator.

Active under-slab depressurization is the less expensive of the two and is best suited for homes with basements or slabs. For homes built on a crawl space or dirt basement, under-membrane depressurization or HRV systems work best. ‘

Rep. Patty Hymanson's water well is seen outside her home in York, Maine on January 6, 2022.

Free Radon Mitigation System Inspections can be requested via Maine Radiation Monitoring Program.

Hymanson also suggests testing for arsenic, another toxin prevalent in Maine well water.

Although her family members did not experience symptoms potentially related to radon or arsenic, Hymanson said she regrets not being tested sooner.

“My kids grew up with high levels of arsenic…I’ll never forgive myself for that,” Hymanson said.

State encourages more testing

A new state law is urging homeowners and owners to test for radon more frequently. The law created a voluntary program for homeowners and other owners to receive incentives to test their buildings for radon more frequently.

The law establishes the Maine Gold Standard for Radon Testing and Mitigation Initiative, set to begin July 1, 2022, to “reward, recognize, promote and assist” homeowners and homeowners to receive a gold standard designation.

In order to earn the gold standard designation, a homeowner must perform and submit state radon testing every two years and comply with all standards set by the EPA. If a test shows high radon levels, the state will pay homeowners the first $600 to mitigate the level within six months.

The state will make radon test results available to the public online.

The 2021 law comes after Maine implemented a law in 2014 that requires all landlords to test their rental properties for radon and disclose the results to current and future tenants.

For more information on radon, visit Maine CDC website or call the state Radiation Monitoring Program at 207-287-5676.

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