It's Radon Action Week!!....
CT Basement Systems Radon Blog by Matthew A. Bednarz V.P.
Arsenic in Fairfield County wells remains an active issue in local news. The State of CT recently released a statement ( http://1.usa.gov/WBDYmi ) recommending all private well owners test their water for arsenic and uranium. The recommendation does not specify a particular town or county...rightfully so! Arsenic can be found in any water well supply anywhere in the country. With that said; we have recently seen arsenic show up in water tests in Weston, Wilton, Redding, Ridgefield, Stamford, Greenwich, and Westport CT.
Arsenic is a semi-metallic, naturally occurring element found in the earth's crust. As a result, any water well drilled into the ground is susceptible to having arsenic become present in its' water. Arsenic III (As III - trivalent) and Arsenic V (As V - pentavalent) are the two most common forms of arsenic present in water supplies. Arsenic III (arsenite) is thought to be more toxic then Arsenate (arsenic V). Arsenic III is also more difficult to remove. As an example; As III can pass right through reverse osmosis membranes whereas AsV will be retained to some degree. The State of CT has some additional arsenic info at; http://1.usa.gov/119sZRc
Determining how much arsenic III vs. arsenic V is present in the water supply to be treated is critical for estimating removal technology efficiency and longevity of absorptive medias that are not regenerated. The reason is twofold; A): the capacity of these units can become prematurely exhausted due to the absorption of competing ions such as silica & phosphates. B): Arsenic III occupies twice the surface area on medias and resins compared to arsenic V. Converting arsenite to arsenate as part of any treatment scheme can be critical to long term treatment success.
Homeowners should be wary of creating other issues with their water when implementing ill-advised treatment strategies. Although the State of CT refers to ion exchange as a treatment technology in their press handouts, these systems are viewed by the State of CT as "non-compliant" systems. The rationale is that the discharge contains a contaminant load exceeding maximum contaminant guidelines established for potable water supplies.
Unfortunately; the State of CT doesn't offer cost effective alternatives to anion exchange for whole house arsenic removal. While absorptive medias are an effective treatment alternative, these technologies can be cost prohibitive for many consumers. Furthermore; there is a zero net gain of contaminant being discharged back into the ground (think septic systems!). It is your home & your property...you'll have to decide what option best suits your needs when armed with all the information on the topic.
Because of issues related to regeneration and discharge regulations, adsorptive media is a greener, low maintenance alternative to exchange resins for whole house arsenic removal. By determining what type of arsenic (speciation) and how much of each type is present, along with a check on competing anions; a comprehensive long term removal strategy can be safely implemented in your homes' well system treatment scheme to protect your family from arsenic exposure without the concerns of discharge. Alternatively; point of use (POU) treatment such as reverse osmosis or smaller absorptive media units can be a cost effective way to treat the drinking / cooking water while leaving the "working" water of the home (washing machine, shower, and dishwasher) untreated.
We've experienced several consecutive quarters of expanded water quality testing and treatment system implementation for "exotic" well water contaminants for homes with private water wells. These "exotic" contaminants are not included in a standard potability analysis...otherwise known as the CT Basic Profile, which is why I refer to them as "exotic." Uranium, arsenic, volatile organic compounds (VOC), and waterborne radon are contaminants readily found in our New England private water wells.
From a home seller perspective; any of these contaminants uncovered at the 11th hour of negotiations can jeopardize an otherwise amicable transaction. From a home buyer perspective; the discovery of one or more of these issues can tarnish the image of what they otherwise perceived to be a clean, safe, place to call; "home."
A home owner with a private water well should test their water quality annually. Ground water is "ever changing" and contaminants such as the aforementioned exotics can creep into a private water well undetected. Regular water quality monitoring just makes sense for protection of everyone's health that uses the water in the home. This will also establish a history for the home owner so that when it is time to sell, it can be demonstrated to the buyer that the water quality was monitored regularly, and if problems were ever found; what steps (if any), were taken to rectify them. If nothing else - awareness of issues can prevent expensive last minute surprises!
A home buyer interested in buying a home with a private water well should not walk away from such a home merely because a problem has surfaced with water quality. Any quality issue can be rectified. Granted - some problems are more complex than others - but there's a solution for every one.
Through the years, I've heard a myriad of opinions and comments regarding well water vs. city water. One of my favorites; "We come from NYC...it has the best water in the world!" I often wonder if any of those people who've made those comments ever considered just how old some of the distribution systems are that deliver water throughout the city. Furthermore; every time I go to a restaurant that has municipal water...I can instantly smell the chlorine residual in the glass of water they bring to the table. Municipal water isn't all it's cracked up to be!
So what do you do if you're a Realtor listing or showing your buyers a home with a private water well? My recommendation is to make your clients aware of the facts. A standard potability analysis doesn't tell the whole story, there's an additional costs for these test, any problem is fixable...and let your client decide how to proceed.
Environmental testing for real estate transactions can become a contentious issue if administered improperly. The negative impact can be further exacerbated by an erroneous interpretation of results. Comments made by disgruntled property owners such as; "we've lived in the home for years and we're still here!" serve no useful purpose, and prove nothing more than they've been blessed with good genes...it doesn't mean that radon, arsenic, or whatever environmental contaminant in question isn't harmful. We do not offer abatement services for mold or asbestos, so this article will focus on our areas of expertise.
Radon in air, radon in water, general water quality (potability), and "exotic" contaminants such as uranium, arsenic, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's) in drinking water are just some of the environmental issues that can turn an otherwise amicable property sale into a contentious transaction. Overall property values will be negatively impacted if these problems are severe enough...not to mention the potential health ramifications to the home's occupants if left unchecked. Mold & asbestos are examples of other environmental hazards lurking in homes.
The statement: "Timing is everything" is true for many situations we encounter in everyday life. This is also true when talking about environmental testing for real estate transactions. As an example; Climatic conditions prior to - and during an airborne radon test can have a dramatic affect on the test results. A thunderstorm with high winds will create a substantial spike in airborne radon concentrations. A clear, calm, mild stretch of weather will yield the lowest possible results. Winter conditions will yield higher airborne radon concentrations vs. summer like weather due to the "stack effect".
The impact to well water quality from climatic conditions is less predictable. Sometimes a water well can demonstrate an almost instant "change" from a passing a rainstorm...or climatic "event" (ie; pH drops down). Other times it may take weeks or months for changes - if any - to occur. Regardless of any climatic events...ground water is "ever changing", and therefore should be tested on a regular consistent basis. Geologic shifts, extended periods of rain...or lack thereof, can influence what's happening down at the aquifier level.
There are no filters or control valves down in the ground that allow only water of a certain quality to enter your well. The well pump draws water in from the surrounding rock strata & pushes it up and into to your home. If, before getting drawn into the pump, the water flows through an arsenic, uranium, or radon bearing source, the more of a chance it will have an elevated presence of that contaminant.
Environmental testing for real estate transactions should also be testing that a homeowner does periodically throughout their residency in that home...not just at time of purchase. Just like you maintain your furnace, kitchen appliances, or water conditioning equipment; a regular check on environmental hazards in the home is just another sensible "chore" a homeowner should undertake periodically.
IRON IN WATER
One of the most common problems private well owners must contend with is iron in water. Iron is one of the most plentiful elements found in the earth's crust. Since water wells are drilled into the earth's crust, it makes sense that water wells contain some amount of iron. Iron in water has a federal maximum contaminant level (mcl) of 0.3 mg/l. This is a secondary standard which means it is an aesthetically based standard - not health related. Albeit, medical research has shown that some diseases are linked or exaserbated by long term ingestion of heavy metals such as iron in water.
The list of problems encountered when iron is present in water can be daunting. These include; staining of fixtures, shower stalls, appliances, walkways, clothing, even hair & skin! Iron in water can also foul water heaters, clog plumbing lines, create bad odors and taste and even clog well pumps. Severe iron contamination can make a home uninhabitable and have a significant impact on the quality of life for the occupants of the affected household .
Iron in water is most commonly found in the ferric or ferrous form. Ferric iron; also known as "red water iron", is iron that is present in an oxidized or precipitated state. Ferrous iron...also referred to as "clear water iron", is iron that is "held in solution". Ferric iron can be filtered out by a basic sediment filter, filter AG, BIRM, or various iron filtration medias. Ferrous iron can either be removed by a water softener, or by oxidation / filtration (turning ferrous iron into ferric) - and then filter out the precipitated iron. It may appear that ferric iron is easier to remove...and often it is. But either species can present unique challenges if conditions are right. In general; iron removal from water requires; filtration, oxidation / filtration, or ion exchange.
Two less common types of iron found in water are organic (organically bound) iron, and colloidal iron. These two forms of iron in water can be difficult to remove, with organic iron being the most problematic. However, as many problems that iron in water creates...so too do the solutions exist to solve these problems.
Depending on other contaminant parameters of the water, ferric iron can be filtered out by either a basic sediment filter, filter AG, BIRM, or various iron filtration medias. Since water chemistry varies from well to well,there is no 100% fool proof method to address organic and colloidal iron in water.
Organically bound iron can be difficult to oxidize and may require long "contact times" for an oxidizer (eg; chlorine, ozone, etc.) to break down the organic substance before the iron can be oxidized. Organic iron is also linked to iron bacteria such as Crenothrix, Leptothrix, and Gallionella. These microorganisms deposit a gelatinous compound on surfaces it comes in contact with. A rainbow sheen on the water's surface is indicative to the presence of iron bacteria.
Colloidal iron has the appearance of ferric iron. It can give the water a pinkish hue. The tiny specks of collodial iron stay in suspension and are widely dispersed throughout the water. Removal of this type of iron in water requires a coagulant to form larger particulate which allows it to become more filterable.
Iron in water can require a robust treatment scheme in some cases to assure for long term effective removal. The worst mistake to be made is short cutting treatment or removal methods. This will inevitably result in premature system failure or poor performance of the removal system in general.
We oftentimes get calls about "radon fan noise". These calls are most prevalent during winter cold snaps and after heavy rainfalls. The short answer regarding the fan noise is; "There has been a change in resistance placed on the fan". The more complete answer deserves a closer look at extenuating circumstances.
To best illustrate the impact of cold and rain on radon fan noise, lets' first review the most common approach taken to mitigate airborne radon in air levels. Active Soil Depressurization (ASD) is a process that involves inserting a pipe through the slab of a structure, and routing to the roof line. An in-line fan is connected to the pipe to draw the radon bearing soil gas out from under the slab, and exhaust it at the roof line of the structure. This method effectively "intercepts" the radon before it ever has a chance to rise up through the slab, making it the most effective and efficient radon mitigation strategy.
Soil gas (of which - radon is a component), remains somewhere around 55 degrees throughout the year. This results in a constant condensation factor within every radon in air mitigation system. In fact; a properly installed ASD system has a constant pitch in the pipe back to the slab to allow for condensation to drain back under the slab.
With sub - freezing outdoor temperatures enveloping the exhaust pipe and fan of an exteriorally routed ASD system, the moist air within the system condensates more readily and soon freezes. The end result; a reduced inner diameter on the exhaust pipe, and ice formation within the fan. These two conditions will most definitely cause a fan to become louder in operational noise. There is no perfect solution to resolve this. Temporarily shutting down the system until it can thaw may be the best approach.
An elevated water table under a basement slab is another contributing factor to radon fan noise. Saturated soil - or water - prevents air flow through sub slab soil. The added resistance of air movement through the ASD system creates more radon fan noise. This is usually the reason why some homes will notice a louder operational noise after periods of rain. Fluctuating water tables resulting from rainy seasons will also impact radon fan noise. Gurgling in the pipe, or a swishing sound in the fan are telltale signs of water impacting the ASD system. Sometimes turning off the fan for a few minutes will resolve the problem. For chronic sub slab water issues, a sump pump or water proofing system may be needed.
We offer a service whereby we inspect your ASD system to identify if any potential problems exist with the layout and performance of your ASD system...we may also be able to help reduce radon fan noise.
The Radon Map of CT only begins to tell the story of the prevalence of radon in the state of Connecticut. CT Basement Systems Radon Inc. has been in the radon mitigation and radon testing business since since 1987. Through the years, we have seen many homes test "high" for radon in zones or counties where the radon "potential" was thought to be lower. Conversely, we have have tested many homes that resulted in radon levels below 4.0 pCi/l in areas designated as having a higher radon potential.
While the Radon Map of CT may be useful as an introductory tool for radon risk assessment, it should not be the only benchmark utilized in determining whether or not a home has a radon problem. Radon is a very "site specific" danger. We have seen streets in neighborhoods where 9 out of 10 homes have elevated indoor radon in air levels. We have also seen neighborhoods where only one or two homes out of 20 have elevated airborne radon levels. Much the same can be said for radon in water levels. A neighborhood of homes with private water wells can have a wide range of waterborne radon levels even though the wells are within close proximity to one another.
Variation in airborne radon levels is not something limited to only larger tracts of real estate. I have personally tested homes that have shown variations of up to 100 pCi/l from one end of the home to the other at the very same time of testing. We attribute these variations to differences in soil composition that the home is built. Radon (and radium) are part of the Uranium 238 decay chain. It is possible to have a structure with a sufficient enough of a footprint, to cover a piece of real estate that has a significant variable in its' radium content; thereby resulting in appreciable differences in airborne radon concentrations.
The topography of a given piece of land is not a good indicator of the "radon potential" for the structure to be built on it. Ledge and rock are not reliable barometers for scoping out potential radon problem areas. I have tested plenty of homes with exposed ledge outcroppings within the structure...and have had numerous test results yielding radon concentrations <4.0 pCi/l. As a company, we mitigated a home in Glastonbury CT, with indoor airborne radon levels of 900 pCi/l...yet Glastonbury is located in a "low radon potential" area on the Radon Map of CT. The only way to know is test your home! Don't forget - if your home has a private water well...test the water for radon also!
WHAT REALTORS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT RADON
Radon testing is a standard offering from most any reputable home inspector. As a result, Realtors are inevitably impacted when a radon problem is uncovered in a home that has been inspected as part of a real estate purchase / transaction. But there are times when radon should never become an issue.
What Realtors need to know about radon is that improper radon testing procedures probably account for more lost sales, closing delays, and animosity between buyers and sellers, than any other environmental issue encountered during a real estate transaction. An educated Realtor can be proactive in avoiding the many pitfalls a poorly executed radon test can create. Radon testing performed as part of a home inspection during a sales transaction should be done in a manner that will reveal what the home's occupants will be exposed to on a consistent basis, under normal living situations. These "screening" measurements should not be used to get the highest radon reading possible.
Non livable dirt basement
Erroneous radon test device placement is easy to recognize once you know what to look for. Placing a test kit in a crawl space, sump hole, or a dirt floored coal cellar that you have to crouch in, is not the proper location for a screening measurement for radon! Here are the basic EPA guidelines for testing:
- Test devices should be placed a minimum 20" off the floor.
- Test devices should not be placed near vents, doors, & windows.
- Test devices should not be placed on furnaces & hot water heaters.
- Test devices should be a minimum of 3 ft. away from doors & windows.
- Test devices should be a minimum of 1 ft. away from exterior walls.
- Testing should not be performed in kitchens, baths, & laundry rooms if at all possible.
Incomplete radon testing of homes with expanded footprints (homes with first floor additions or liveable areas not located over the basement) can also create problems during the course of a home sales transaction. Homes with footprints that extend beyond just the basement need to have more than one area tested. As an example; a home with a full basement that has a family room addition built over a crawl space, and a master bedroom suite built "slab on grade", should have all these areas tested.
Addition on slab
What Realtors need to know about radon is that if an elevated radon level is found, a qualified mitigator who surveys the home to give a radon mitigation quote will recognize that these other areas need to be tested in order to give the most thorough assessment of the radon picture for the home. The experienced radon mitigator will recognize that oftentimes; mitigation efforts made in one location of the home, will have little to no impact in other areas of the home. To avoid delays and jeopardize closing dates, it should be determined in advance if those other areas need to be addressed. That can only be ascertained by thourough radon testing procedures.
If the home being tested for radon in air has well water, the water should be tested for radon. Radon in water testing needs to be requested by interested parties, because it is not included in a standard potability analysis. The radon content of water can impact radon in air levels. Sometimes; a radon in water level can be a major contributing factor to an elevated radon in air concentration.
RADON TESTING FOR REAL ESTATE TRANSACTIONS
Radon testing for real estate transactions can oftentimes become a contentious issue if not administered properly. It is also critical that the Interpretation of any test results be handled judiciously to ensure that unnecessary work, delays in closing, and buyer / seller stress be kept to a minimum. I'm rehasing this info because the real estate market is quite active right now and the issue of improper testing procedure is once again becoming commonplace in the real estate market!
Radon testing for real estate transactions should be conducted by someone who has a NRPP or NRSB certification for radon testing. Aside from the certification; a common sense approach is helpful in the deployment and retrieval of test devices. The most common error we see in the field are homes that have been insufficiently tested for radon in air.
An illustration of this scenario would be a 5,000 square foot home with a portion of the structure over a basement, a portion over crawl space, and a portion that is built slab on grade. The elementary approach many test "professionals" would take would be to test the basement only. The problem is that the results achieved in that area are not representative of the radon levels in the rest of the home. The basement can yield very different results vs. the section of the home that is "slab on grade". Left untested; the occupants may end up unknowingly exposed to elevated radon concentrations in areas where they spend measureable time.
Homes bought and sold during the spring and summer markets may test "low" for indoor radon concentrations. However; the "stack effect" which occurs in all homes to some degree during colder weather, can sometimes dramatically increase indoor radon concentrations. The message here is to retest for radon in air concentrations periodically, with an emphasis on a "cold weather" result included in the mix. Many homeowners are lulled into a false sense of security by one low result and spend years unknowingly exposed to elevated radon concentrations.
When contracting a testing company (or home inspector) to test the home you're interested in; you should emphasize the fact that you want the home tested so that you know what your family's exposure will be throughout the home...not what the radon level is in a sump hole or crawl space!
Radon testing for real estate transactions should also include a radon in water test if that water comes from a private water well. A low radon in air concentration in the basement or lowest living level of the home does not mean there isn't a radon problem in the water. Conversely; a high radon level in the upper portion of the home vs. a low reading in the basement is a clear sign of a source (off gassing of radon) in the water. After the closing and long after all the inspections are completed, be sure to test the water regularly. Potability at least annually. Radon & other "special request" bi - annually.
Radon testing for real estate transactions should include at least on dual device test result if passive detectors such as charcoal canisters or e-perms are utilized. Only one Continuous monitor device is required for the area to be tested. If an inspector only has one device & the home has multiple areas to be tested; passive detectors can be deployed simultaneously in the other areas to be tested.
Foul tastes and odors in drinking water can be caused by many different factors. Paradoxically - poorly maintained water treatment equipment that was originally installed to solve a water quality issue can be one of the biggest contributing factors. Other common causes of foul tastes and odors include; microbial infestations, varmit and pest intrusions, deteriorating distribution / delivery systems, fluctuations of various water contaminant levels, and fouled water heaters.
"Rotten egg, earthy, musty, metallic, sour", and "sweet" are just some of the adjectives used to describe issues with foul tastes and odors in well water. Add in the differences in perception from person to person - as well as varying degrees of olfactory and taste bud acuteness; and you have what can be, a complex problem. It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between taste and odors because our taste buds and olfactory organs works so closely together. This can sometimes make it hard to distinguish where one sense leaves off, and the other takes over.
Ever say to yourself "geez - that perfume (or cologne) tastes wonderful" when passing by someone who has bathed themselves in their favorite fragrance? If you have; then I hope that illustrates just how close taste and odor coexist. (Disclaimer; the author appreciates the fact that not everyone may posses sarcastic voices in their head... but he hopes the idea was at least communicated).
Because there is such a wide spectrum of possible sources for foul tastes and odors in drinking water; a "one size fits all" approach to treatment does not exist. However, there are certain treatment strategies that will address many different types of taste and odor issues. Aeration and activated carbon filtration are two of the more common treatment technologies applied to taste and odor problems in drinking water. Other options include chlorination followed by filtration, pH adjustment via neutralization, ozone, and air injection.
If you have a taste and odor problem in your hot water only; the anode rod in the hot water heater may be to blame. This is usually a sign of anaerobic bacteria reacting with the magnesium or aluminum anode rod that are in most water heaters...producing hydrogen sulfide gas - hence; rotten eggs! Chlorinating or using hydrogen peroxide to sanitize the water heater may be a viable first step...but it is often not a permanent solution. Replacing the stock anode rod with a magnesium / zinc replacement anode can solve many of these problems permanently.
If the rotten egg odor is in the cold water only; starting off with a simple cartridge filter that has an activated carbon component to it, is usually the most cost effective first course of action. If the carbon cartridge works; a larger tank version can be installed and the carbon cartridge filter can be replaced with a standard sediment removal cartridge.
Metal taste or odor in drinking water can be from acidic water or elevated iron content in the water. Sour taste can be acidic water. Sweet taste can be from lead. Earthy or musty taste and odor in drinking water is oftentimes linked to geosmin or MIB which are naturally occurring compounds found in water produced by diatoms and actinomycetes.
Generally speaking; odors can most often be traced back to living organisms, gases, and organic matter in the water. Tastes are generally the result of high mineral content of one form or another in the water. Since everyone's perceptions are unique, resolving foul taste and odor issues in drinking water can sometimes be daunting, but we have solutions.