On-campus radon lab offers cheap and safe alternative for home testing

April 6, 2015

Kyle Guthrie
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Radon has been a growing concern in states such as Colorado since the 80s, but an on-campus alternative to expensive testing seeks to offer students and the community a cheaper and safer option for protecting themselves from radioactivity.

Radon is a byproduct of uranium decay, and can enter a home from the soil at the lowest level at the house. While radon gas can pose a problem anywhere, topographic soil characteristics and a high prevalence of basements makes Colorado susceptible.

Professor James Burkhart, who is also the director of the Western Regional Radon Training Center in Colorado Springs, runs the Radon Measurements Lab on campus, which began in 1986.

“The EPA knew about Radon in the 50s, but it didn’t become of national importance until 1984 when it was found out that it was in ordinary homes.” Burkhart said.

Burkhart and the physics and engineering departments utilize a comprehensive laboratory on campus for testing levels of radon in homes, and the business generates roughly $20,000 a year, which then goes toward student employee wages and scholarships.

Burkhart also continues his own research on the gas itself.

“A lot of my research is not contained in the two labs, but it’s medical research,” Burkhart explained. “In particular, I’m doing a large case control study on trying to determine if breathing radon causes thyroid cancer, so we worked with local endocrinologists in Memorial Hospital.”

Burkhart believes the health and monetary benefits for students that are buying a house is a fantastic resource.

“Above all, I don’t want to be perceived as trying to make a lot of money off of our students,” Burkhart said. “But because this is a public university, anyone can come in and purchase a test.”

“I’ve never advertised this, and I was reluctant because I don’t want the interview to be perceived as an advertisement for the lab,” he said. “But anyone can test their home for radon at any time, and we let anyone come in and purchase the test.”

Burkhart said previous owners of a home could be held fiscally responsible if the new owner detects levels of radon above safe limits.

“Before the home is bought, when you’re looking at a home, you hire a home inspector,” Burkhart said.

“One of the things they check is radon gas. The student should also make sure that the inspector is certified for radon inspection, and the certification body is the National Radon Proficiency Program.”

Burkhart advised home buyers to be sure the contract includes a paragraph that states the home must be mitigated if the radon test indicates a level above 4 parts per liter.

“This way, the student buying the home will not get stuck with the bill. This practice is almost always done automatically, but the buyer should always make sure the seller does this.”