Yesterday Cooperative Extension received confirmation that this next fiscal year’s (July 1, 2015- July 30 2016) has been provided by the EPA. There has been concern from year to year since 2012 of the funding being cut, but it is here. And so I will continue to work with various entities to get the word out on testing and mitigating). This month I’ve been available for the common phone calls to come in at my office (474-6366 or 1-800-478-8324) for residents. I’ve driven out to a tribal village about 500 miles there and back to drop off a group of radon tests, and have continued the planning/communication of mediating testing with Alaska’s school districts.
It is the latter, training and helping with the testing schools which will take up a share of this year’s operating budget. Test kits are not cheap; even with an unbelievable deal from one of the few providers in the country, it costs $10-$20 per classroom to test. Count up the number of classrooms in all of your kids’ schools- then add the rooms where staff, teachers and students may be occupying for the majority of a day (such as libraries, gyms, cafeterias, secretary offices, etc…). You can see where it easily costs several hundred dollars for small schools and can be up in the thousands for some of the larger schools in the state. That is just for the test kits, as there obviously is expenditure of time and effort by district personnel.
In many states that require testing in schools (Alaska does not), the rule of thumb of testing every five years is followed. Why twice a decade? There may be earthquakes, a changing of the water table or floods which can redistribute the routes which radon takes advantage of when escaping from the uranium that created it below in the ground. But generally with large ventilation systems which schools often have, someone changing the controls which may effect the air exchange rate can change the level of exposure in the building. If you have questions about radon in your local schools, call your local district’s environmental or safety health manager to see if your district has tested and when. The good news is that unlike homes that may have several factors effecting the escapement of radon out of the house or negative pressure causing the infilling of radon into the home, schools have a very large and sophisticated air handling system so that in this one rare venue, ‘diluting is the solution to pollution’. Any other questions about radon? Call Art at 1-800-478-8324.
Many people think about radon in the depths of winter as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has chosen the first month of the year (and coldest in many parts of the country) as the time to roll out its information about radon. This way short term testing can still occur in the months that often Americans’ homes are closed up and more likely to reflect a concentrated amount of radon gas on the test results. And the last couple years I have encouraged people during January to test (as it is the only way you will ever know if you have a radon problem). Public service announcements, targeted dates to release video, newspaper articles etc… are created for an especially hard hit in January.
BUT, the depths of summer are also a good time to think about radon if you are taking advantage of these long days to build a home. In fact, you can reduce future mitigation if your January test is high, by including radon evacuating piping into your foundation plans before you pour a slab and get on with the finishing of your building before the fall snows hit. If you are building yourself or having a contractor part out the individual tasks to sub-contractors, you might want to take a look at Ilya Benesch’s two films on our YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EOt-iyk5MA for the short five minute summary on super insulated slabs with radon piping included, and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwz4yPgv3XA for the more detail version of a dozen minutes. This longer video uses the designation popular with the EPA and National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) entitled “RRNC”, or Radon Resistant New Construction. Both videos are also on the site of Illya’s employer, the Cold Climate Housing Research Center at www.cchrc.org. If you have any other questions on these techniques of including radon escapement routes into your foundation (or radon testing concerns), feel free to contact myself at our Radon Hotline number of 1-800-478-8324.
With all the wood smoke currently around, it’s obvious that our plant/tree life has a lot of BTU’s! (And from all the smoke, you can tell much of it is green and not completely combusting). Did you know that such plants as ours can produce biofuels? In fact one researcher at UAF a couple years ago was burning wood in a Gasification Experimental Kit unit to create a liquid he could use to outright run a diesel generator which supplied electricity to his very lab.
Yet most people equate plants and liquid fuels with Ethanol. And many have ‘blend fuel’ vehicles now that are designed to perform off a mix (often 10% biofuel and 90% petroleum fuel). Corn has been the plant of choice in most of the lower 48, although Sorghum and other plants can contribute to the auto fleet fuels used. When looking at the overall nation, Alaska is ranked 49th in utilizing just under 1% of the nation’s Ethanol at a minor 30,786,000 gallons. Now only if we could figure out how to use our main grain, barley, to make our own car hootch!
Many people in Alaska are surprised to hear that the second major use of energy in Alaska (next to industrial usage) is not home and building space heating, but rather transportation. When looking at all the fuel and heat used to transport people around the state both on and off the road system, in transporting food and goods up to Alaska from other states/countries, and in getting up to develop our main energy resources on the North Slope- transportation use takes up about a third of our energy consumed.
Today (6/24) there was an article in the Alaska Dispatch about the declining days of usage in which the major thoroughfares up to Alaska’s oilfields could be used. To drive large vehicles on the tundra for servicing rigs frozen soils and ice roads have been depended upon. Currently, with the climate changing to warmer soils those permafrost soils have been thawing and restricting the ability to drive and move equipment in the ordinary methods of the past. This spring saw the “Haul Road” (Dalton Highway) was closed in sections for quite some time due to overflow. Many of the North Slope suppliers rely on Ironically, though not all due to warming climate trends, the thawing out of the Arctic is hampering the access for production of our energy resources. Yet as seen in the article today there are engineers utilizing simple interventions such as snow pack (and more complex methods) to try to keep the transportation moving!