As someone who has not yet had the luxury of purchasing a home, radon awareness and mitigation are two topics with which I have basic familiarity. For others like me who have not heard about it, radon is a chemical on the periodic table of elements and is typically found in nature in a gaseous state. Unfortunately, much like Iocane powder in the Princess Bride, it is odorless, tasteless, and one of the deadlier poisons known to man. Plot twist – it is actually radioactive.
According to the U.S. EPA, “Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among people who do not smoke”.
So, where does this nefarious chemical come from? In a nutshell, radon is the byproduct of the decay of other naturally occurring radioactive elements, such as uranium. As uranium in the ground decays, the radon gas rises up from the earth, often becoming trapped in our homes. Basements are especially prone to capturing radon, as they do not always contain windows or other means of adequate ventilation. As a result, in the late 1900s, Americans began installing mitigation systems to properly ventilate homes and reduce radon exposure to minimal levels. However, many people remain unaware of the average radon levels of their municipality, which can put them in danger.
Raising Public Awareness
Like I said, I was completely unaware of this problem – that is, until I participated in the Code4PA Hackathon with some of my fellow GeoDecisions team members. The Hackathon was an event hosted by Harrisburg University and it encouraged both students and local professionals to form teams and work together to create innovative solutions to problems such as this. Our team, the GeoDeciders (affectionately known by some as The Mighty Mighty GeoTones) took on the task of building a web application that provides radon data to concerned Pennsylvanians. We built our application using Node JS, TypeScript, the Angular framework, and Esri® technologies such as the Esri JS API and ArcGIS Server.
A GIS App Solution
The team was comprised of two GIS analysts, Kelly Fisher and Joel Rogers (also the team lead), a database specialist and data analyst, Matt Allen, and two developers, Ben Gilles and myself. Over the course of one month, the five of us put together an app we dubbed ‘PA Radon,’ which met and exceeded the requirements of our use case. Our app consists of an interactive heat map created from interpolated radon data from a host of measurements obtained from locations across the state. Each municipality was assigned a heat index, and Joel ended up creating several interpolated layers showcasing radon data spanning multiple decades.
Our application also provides a layer which featured water quality test locations across the state, which seemed relevant to potential home buyers, especially if the home in question will use well water. Finally, the application exports CSV files containing individual test data of both radon and water. These files can then be imported into other applications such as Microsoft Excel for further statistical analysis.
After one month, our team presented a demo of our final project to a panel of judges at Harrisburg University. Joel Rogers took point in highlighting the aforementioned features of the application, as well as the relevance to potential clients. As it turned out, our team walked away with an award from the Esri representatives for the “best use of Esri technology” in our application. We were also invited by Esri to the next summit meeting, which I will happily be attending.
The Code4PA Hackathon was a fantastic ride, and I’ll be back next year for more. Hopefully it will be even better the second time around.