It has been a little more than a year since the second largest U.S. earthquake in 2018 rattled Big Lake. And for most people the immediate concerns were over visible damage above the Earth’s surface (such as leaking water pipes, drywall cracks, slanted door jams, busted window panes, etc…) My main concerns, as a public educator on healthy homes however, were sub-surface. With redistributed soils and materials after the earthquake, there were potential unseen yet testable environmental health hazards such as bacteria, nitrates, and arsenic that may have entered homes through wells and pumps.

While there is no state regulation requiring the testing of private wells (or residential septic systems) after a major seismic event, it is not a bad idea to do so as high bacteria counts migrating through the soils to drinking water can cause acute illness and chronic poisonings. With the mere time of taking your own water sample, the financial cost of the analysis, and postage all together run under $200 which is a lot cheaper than a run to the ER or continual doctor visits.

There is also radioactive radon gas that may be new to your home since the earthquake.. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. People who noticed new cracks in their foundation immediately after the earthquake may not realize that these are potential entry points that are unnoticed into your home through your natural senses.. Even if the quake did not cause obvious new cracks in your basement’s cement slab or in the mortar between cinder blocks, there may be new available routes for the gas to accumulate in concentrated, indoor air. Testing for radon’s presence by taking your own indoor air sample generally runs under $25. The latest national building code recommends testing after a major subsurface disturbance, whether it be seismic, substantial water table changes, or flooding. And step by step mitigation is not highly technical.

Art Nash, is an Associate Energy Professor at the UAF, and he chairs Alaska’s National Extension Healthy Home Partnership Advisory Board.

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