Radon and black mold affect health
Radon gas and black mold are two health concerns Wyoming residents face in their homes.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies Wyoming as Zone 1 for radon risk. This classification indicates that the average indoor screening level is greater than four picocuries per liter (pCi/l).
“A family whose home has radon levels of four pCi/l is exposed to approximately 35 times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would allow if that family was standing next to the fence of a radioactive waste site,” states radon.com.
Radon and its effects
Radon is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas, which comes from the decay of uranium and radium in soil beneath homes. This gas escapes from the soil and seeps into homes, creating a potentially dangerous environment for inhabitants.
“Every house is going to have radon gas,” Steve Melia, MSPH at the Wyoming Department of Health. “It is a naturally occurring phenomenon.”
“There are only three houses that do not have to worry about radon – tree houses, stilt houses and mobile homes that do not have skirting,” he continues.
“Radon does not anything aside from lung cancer at this point in time,” says Melia. “Research is being done with its connection to childhood leukemia, but there is nothing solid at this point.”
There are no immediate symptoms that will alert inhabitants to the presence of the gas, and it could potentially take years for health problems to arise.
Prevention and correction
Testing for the gas every two years is the only way to know the radon levels in a home. It is also important to test after structural modifications have occurred.
“The more energy efficient or tighter the house is, the more suction it will exert on the soil,” says Melia. “This will bring up more radon from the soil.”
However, if high levels are detected in homes, steps can be taken by contractors to correct the levels.
A mitigation system can be installed in a house with high levels. This modification places pipes underneath the house, which draws up the radon gas being released by the soil and expels it from a fan located above ground.
Black mold is known as one of the most dangerous molds to humans and can grow in houses. It is considered a toxic mold because of the production of mycotoxins.
This mold is greenish-black and appears gelatinous. It is typically slimy because of a wet layer on top but can appear dry and powdery if the water source has run out.
“Mold spores may enter your house from the outside through open doorways, windows and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems with outdoor air intakes,” states the Center for Disease Control (CDC). “When mold spores drop on places where there is excessive moisture, such as where leakage may have occurred or where there has been flooding, they will grow. Many building materials provide suitable nutrients that encourage mold to grow.”
Large mold infestation can typically be seen and smelled.
Wyoming residents have been plagued with black mold problems across the state, resulting in hospitalization.
When black mold infests homes, frequently, the property must be rebuilt.
Generally, symptoms include respiratory problems, skin inflammation, hemorrhage, irritation of mucous membranes, damage to internal organs, mental impairment, tiredness, nausea and immune system suppression. In extreme cases, exposure to black mold can also lead to death.
Children, the elderly and those with weak immune systems are usually the most sensitive to black mold toxicity.
Since the mold needs high moisture levels to grow, removal of the water source is the first step that needs to be addressed.
According to the CDC, “Things that stayed wet for two days have mold growing on them even if you cannot see it.”
“In most cases mold can be removed from hard surfaces by a thorough cleaning with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of no more than one cup of bleach in one gallon of water,” CDC continues. “If you have an extensive amount of mold, you may want to contact a professional.”
Higher efficiency, higher risk
Homes that are more energy efficient are sealed more tightly from the outside. However, the tighter seal will exert more suction on the soil, drawing up increased levels of radon gas. Without proper ventilation, the gas will build up in the home.
Older, less energy efficient houses are at a decreased risk of radon because there is more ventilation to the outside.
Regardless, every house is going to have some level of radon present because the building comes in contact with the ground.
For more information on radon testing or kits, visit health.wyo.gov/phsd/radon/index.html. Further reading on black mold can be found at cdc.gov/mold/stachy.htm.
Kelsey Tramp is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.