Rick BissonAnyone who listened to the radio, watched the black-and-white series on television, or watched one of the many modern-day Superman movies, understands the crushing effects of kryptonite on the caped crusader. A fictional ore form of a radioactive element from Superman’s home planet of Krypton, kryptonite weakens the hero to his knees.

In our real world, the cancer causing effects of radon can be a health-care kryptonite. Unlike the green glow emitted by kryptonite, radon is colorless, odorless, tasteless and it may be a problem in your home.

Radon is estimated to cause thousands of deaths each year. In fact, the Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths.

Radon comes from the natural, radioactive breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. The byproduct gets into the air and can get into any type of building – homes, offices, and schools – and result in a high indoor radon level. However, the greatest risk for exposure is at home, where individuals spend most of their time.

Measured in picocuries per liter (pCi/l) the U.S. EPA has established the “action level” for mitigating radon emissions at 4 pCi/l. A picocurie is 0.000,000,000,001 of a curie.

A curie is an international measurement of radioactivity. One pCi/l means that in one liter of air there will be 2.2 radioactive disintegrations per minute. Four pCi/l is the level accepted by most states. Maine, New Hampshire and New Jersey are exceptions; they have an established acceptable action level of 2 pCi/l. In other countries, the action levels are slightly less than 4 pCi/l.

Radon can be found all over the U.S. The levels of radon in homes and other buildings depend on the characteristics of the rock and soil in the area. As a result, radon levels vary greatly in different parts of the country, even within neighborhoods. The rocks and soils of Maine create more radon than most other states. Approximately one in three Maine homes has air radon concentrations over 4 pCi/L.

According to information from the EPA, the majority of Maine is in Zone 1 with average indoor radon screening levels greater than 4 pCi/L. This includes the Midcoast area, with Lincoln, Kennebec, and Cumberland counties all in Zone 1. Sagadahoc County, however, is defined as Zone 2 with predicted average indoor radon screening levels from 2 to 4 pCi/L.

Additionally, high concentrations of radon can be found in Maine drinking water. The Maine Bureau of Health recommends radon concentrations in drinking water of 20,000 pCi/L or above be reduced. Studies have shown that nearly one in five Maine wells have radon concentrations this high or higher. Several wells in southern Maine have radon concentrations above one million pCi/L.

The EPA, Surgeon General, and the Maine Bureau of Health recommend testing all buildings for radon. Maine regulations require the lowest usable level of a building be tested – typically the basement. Maine also recommends that every well be tested for radon in water.

If a test shows that a home has too much radon in the air or water, consult with an expert about a mitigation system. Radon problems in the air can be fixed easily and quickly for a cost from $800 to $2,500.

The most effective treatment for removing radon from the water is to install a mitigation system where the water enters the home. This is called point-of-entry treatment. Treatment at a water tap, called point-of-use treatment, is slightly less effective. Radon in water can be treated for a cost from $1,000 to $5,000.

If you are buying a home, you may want to include a radon contingency in your offer to purchase, stating the maximum level of radon that is acceptable to you. If tested levels are above that figure, you can negotiate the price of the mitigation system.

If you are thinking about selling a home it might be wise to pre-test your home for radon. As always, if you’re considering buying or selling, discuss your options with your trusted, expert Realtor.

This column is produced by Rick Bisson and his family, who own Bisson Real Estate with Keller Williams Realty of Midcoast and Sugarloaf.