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Upcoming Symposium in New York City: Breast Cancer and the Environment

Environmental contaminants may contribute to diseases such as breast cancer.

Environmental contaminants may contribute to diseases such as breast cancer.

By John Martin

One way EPA scientists help protect public health is by analyzing the health effects that may result from exposure to environmental contaminants. A particular area of interest for our scientists, and for scientists across the U.S. and the world, has been chemicals’ potential to cause various types of cancer.

On January 12, 2015, the Children’s Environmental Health Center and the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai hospital here in New York City will be hosting a symposium entitled “Breast Cancer and the Environment.” The symposium will feature a distinguished panel of speakers who will be discussing current research and what it is saying about the connections between environmental factors and breast cancer risk.

To register for this free event, and to get more info on topics and speakers, visit: http://conta.cc/1wFzT2A

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Indoors, Radon Stands Out

By Henry Slack

For the past twenty years, I’ve helped EPA fix indoor air pollution problems. Mold, odors, air cleaners, sick buildings, you name it – I’ve helped people learn how to manage these problems in their homes. The key thing I’ve learned: the most insidious indoor air pollutant is radon.

Radon is hidden and dangerous. We can’t see or smell it. The only way to know it’s around is to test for it. Did you know that radon in homes first drew concern as a public health threat after a worker at a nuclear power plant started setting off the plant’s radiation alarms? His home’s radon level was so high, he was carrying radiation into the plant. Yet he had no clue his home was radioactive before the testing started. The old proverb “out of sight, out of mind” holds true.

Radon causes lung cancer, second only to smoking as the leading cause. It leads to an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year. Some of my relatives have had cancer; it’s serious. The good news, however, is that radon-induced lung cancer (like smoking) can be prevented. Testing your home and taking corrective actions to reduce high levels is easy, cheap, and local resources are available to help.

EPA has been talking about the dangers of radon for decades. Lately, the group Cancer Survivors Against Radon (CanSAR) has joined the effort to raise awareness and help people take action to reduce their risk. Members share their personal stories about how high the radon levels were in their home, how they or a loved one battled against the disease, and how they want others to test for radon. Their goal: no one else having to watch someone they care about get sick and die of lung cancer.
 
Radon deaths are completely preventable. Please test your home, and fix it if you have a problem. Thank you.

About the author: Henry Slack from EPA’s Atlanta regional office has taught and helped people in the southeast with indoor air problems for more than 20 years.  His study of chemistry (B.S.) and mechanical engineering (M.S.) give him a strong background in the field, and he is active with the U.S. Green Building Council and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).     

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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La prueba del radón: ¡Es inteligente y hasta un cavernícola la haría!

Es difícil pensar en una época en la cual ciertos lujos de hoy en día no existían. Los teléfonos móviles inteligentes, el correo electrónico, las fotocopiadoras a color y los blogs se han convertido en parte de nuestras vidas cotidianas. Hay algunas cosas, sin embargo, que han sido parte de la vida humana desde hace mucho tiempo atrás.
En tiempos pasados, nuestros antepasados se mantenían calientes junto al fuego en su cueva.  Y, si la caza era buena, se sentaban alrededor del fuego a disfrutar de la carne de reno, estofado de buey y raíces. El aire exterior era limpio y fresco, pero dentro de la cueva el aire podía estar lleno de humo y si la geología está en lo cierto, lleno de gas radón. ¿Por qué estoy escribiendo acerca de los cavernícolas y el radón? Bueno, también tienen unos antecesores antiguos.

Toda la tierra tiene cierta cantidad de uranio natural.  El uranio tiene una vida media radiológica de un poco mas de 4.4 mil millones de años.  Sigue siendo un material sólido en el suelo durante millones de años. Pero eventualmente el uranio se descompone en radio.  La forma más común del radio, que también es un elemento solido, se descompone en radón en unos 1600 años. 

Desafortunadamente, como muchos estadounidenses hoy en día, nuestros antepasados cavernícolas no tenían ni idea de la existencia del radón o cuáles son los riesgos a la salud asociados al mismo. Es un gas radioactivo y es la segunda causa principal de cáncer pulmonar.  El radón se puede encontrar en todos los EE.UU. Se puede encontrar en cualquier tipo de edificio, casas, oficinas y escuelas, e incluso en viviendas en las cavernas.

Enero es el Mes de Concienciación sobre el Radón. La única manera de saber si usted está en riesgo de radón es hacer la prueba de radón en su hogar. Es barata y fácil. Es lo que debe hacer para proteger a usted y su familia. Nuestros antepasados antiguos no tenían la tecnología para conocer el radón ni hacer la prueba, pero usted la tiene. Tome ventaja de las maravillas de la edad moderna y protéjase y a su familia, también.

Acerca del autor: Jack Stephen Barnette es un científico medio ambientalista de la oficina de Aire y Radiación en la Región  5 de la EPA en Chicago.  El señor Barnette ha estado trabajando en temas ambientales y de salud ambiental desde el año 1977.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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"That Healthy Glow"

By Becky Bronstein (Student Intern Region 3 Summer 2012)

With my fair skin and red hair I always knew I had to be careful when it came to sun exposure. I was especially aware of my risk after a trip to my dermatologist when I was proclaimed the “moley-est” of my family. When I went to the beach as a kid I was forced to wear baggy t-shirts to protect my sensitive back and shoulders as well as wear a wide brim hat to shield me from UV rays; not to mention a healthy slathering of the kind of sunscreen that refused to rub in, leaving me even more white and pasty.

As a senior in high school I thought I had it all. I was captain of two varsity sports, class president, and involved in a slew of extracurricular activities. I had a wonderful group of friends, a supportive family, and a recent acceptance into the college of my choice. However, in the spring of 2011 when I visited my dermatologist for a routine mole check I was told I needed to surgically remove an “interesting” looking mole from my right shoulder immediately. Even though I was well aware that my mom had recently had a malignant mole on her forearm, I never thought some “interesting” mole could amount to anything. Shortly thereafter I had the mole removed. I was playing softball the very next day.

When the test results came back I learned that the mole was pre-cancerous. Where did I go wrong? Sure my fair skin and maybe genetics put me at an increased risk, but I thought I took all of the precautions. Oh wait, could it have been those long weekends in the sun playing softball? Could it have been that time I didn’t reapply sunscreen after hours at the beach? Surely those sunburns I could count on one hand couldn’t have brought me to the brink of cancer. What if I had not gone to the dermatologist or waited just a few more months for my check up?

I am 18 years young and I will have a wormy looking scar on my right shoulder for the rest of my life. At first I was scared of what that scar represented. It was a reminder that I could have had cancer. Now, however, the scar is a part of me and it serves instead as a reminder of the precautions I must take.

Cancer doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care if you are only 17, if your family has already had enough of it or even if you’ve tried to avoid it. Cancer can affect anyone. By no means will I stay indoors during the hours of 10 am to 4 pm or panic at the appearance of a new freckle, but I will continue to wear protective clothing and seek shade when I can. I can do without that “healthy” glow. I’ll stick with my pasty white sunscreen.

About the author: Rebecca Bronstein completed a volunteer internship this summer in the Air Protection Division at EPA Region 3 where her work focused on climate change, promoting renewable energy and educating students. Becky is a rising sophomore at the University of Delaware, where she is majoring in Environmental Science as a member of the Honors Program and the Dean’s List.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Melanoma is Most Common Cancer for Young Adults Ages 20-30

By Maribeth Bambino Chitkara, MD

It was almost a year after her initial diagnosis at the age of 26, just around Thanksgiving, when we found out that my younger sister Melissa’s melanoma had spread. From that point on, Melissa’s battle with melanoma was a blur of surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy. I came home to be with her as often as I could, and would stay with her in the hospital each time she was admitted. I’d try to sleep in the chair next to her bed, but would oftentimes push her over in the middle of the night and make her share the bed with me the way we did when we were kids. I was so amazed by her resilience. She’d go into the hospital for surgery, and be on the phone two days later talking to her clients from her hospital bed. I don’t think many of her friends and co-workers even knew how serious her condition was because she was so incredible at bouncing back.

Feeling so far away, my husband and I decided to move to New York to be closer to our families. I was pregnant with my son when we moved. Melissa embraced my pregnancy and could not wait until the baby was born. She stayed with me in the delivery room while I was in labor, wiping my forehead, cheering me on and encouraging me to be strong. Always the inspiration to me, we decided to ask her to be my son’s Godmother and of course, she accepted.

It was shortly after my son’s christening in the fall of 2003 that we learned that Melissa’s cancer had not only spread to her brain, but to more lymph nodes, her liver, and her spine. Her doctors started her on more chemotherapy, but we knew it was only a matter of time. Three days before Christmas, she was admitted to the hospital because she was very weak. On Christmas Eve, she slipped into a coma and died two days later. My family was with her when she passed, each holding her hands and hugging her. It was very peaceful and full of love. I feel blessed to have been with her.

I know now that as a pediatrician, I have to make a difference. I cannot let my sister’s death be in vain. Parents need to know how to protect their kids against the sun and its harms. Since Melissa has died, I’ve decided to change my career path to try to be a louder voice for melanoma. I figure that by telling people her story and making them understand how awful a disease melanoma is, maybe more deaths can be prevented. This is the best way I can think of to honor her memory. Please learn more about how to be SunWise this Don’t Fry Day.

About the author: Maribeth Bambino Chitkara, MD, lost her younger sister to melanoma at the tender age of 29, and wants to remind you to be SunWise on “Don’t Fry Day” and every day.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Radon: A Leading Environmental Cause of Cancer Mortality

By Dr Susan Conrath

Throughout my career as a Public Health Service Officer and EPA employee, I have always been surprised by the relatively low level of radon awareness throughout the country. Radon is a Class A carcinogen- we know that it causes cancer in humans. But, this huge environmental risk is not on most individuals’ “radar screens.” Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil. Since it is a gas it can easily move through spaces in the soil and escape into the air where it is diluted. However, when radon enters a home through cracks in the foundation or other openings, it becomes trapped inside and can accumulate. You can’t see, smell or taste radon, but it’s there. In fact, its discovery as an indoor air issue occurred when an individual, Stanley Watras, set off radiation alarms in a nuclear power plant because his home’s levels were so high.

Many people do not realize that radon is the number two cause of lung cancer in the U.S.; exceeded only by smoking. For never-smokers radon is the number one cause of lung cancer. Scientific studies have confirmed the risk and show no evidence that there is any “safe” level of radon.

As shown on our Health Risks Page radon-induced lung cancer deaths [at the U.S. average indoor air concentration of 1.3 picocuries/Liter of air [1.3pCi/L]] are in the same general range as deaths from leukemia and lymphoma and are greater than a number of selected cancers that we currently spend large amounts of money to research and/or combat.

Protect your family! The only way to know if you have radon in your home is to test. Testing is easy and inexpensive. If your level is high fix the problem. It’s one of the best investments you can make for your family’s health and it will enhance the future sales potential of your home by making it a healthier place to live. Learn more about how to test and fix for radon.

If you are building a house or having one built, radon-resistant new construction [RRNC] techniques can be used to avoid having to deal with high radon concentrations. It’s less expensive to install RRNC during construction than to have to fix a radon problem at a later date.

About the author: Dr Susan Conrath is a CAPTAIN with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. She works in the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air as an epidemiologist and international expert on radon risk.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Mobile Apps and Our New Year’s Resolutions

By Carmen Torrent

In January, people reflect on their lives and make a list of things they want to get, change or strike out. The tradition of making resolutions comes from ancient times. The Roman Empire established January 1 as the beginning of the year and placed Janus, a mystic god, as the guardian of the door of the New Year, and he became the symbol of the resolution. Janus has two faces representing beginnings and endings, one looking to the past and the other to the future.

Topping my list of resolutions this year is to be healthier, and part of being healthier is to maintain a healthy home. That’s why I decided to test my home for radon. Now that I know radon is the number two cause of lung cancer behind smoking, testing for radon is a high priority for me. While it’s true that we all start the New Year determined to carry out our resolutions, I know that as time goes by some are forgotten. Like my grandmother used to say, “It’s easier said than done.” And I didn’t want to forget this important resolution, so I came up with an idea that would help me achieve my resolutions this year, and I get to have fun using my new smartphone.

I recorded my resolutions on my phone and then I used a mobile application to remind me of my new year’s resolutions: “How do I test for radon?” And the app sent me to find out how to test my home and what to do if I have high radon. Try it; it’s fun! Never thought that I would put this technology to good use to protect the environment.

January marks the beginnings in many ways, and it’s also designated by EPA as National Radon Action Month. Radon is a radioactive gas; it is invisible and odorless. Radon gas enter the lungs when you inhale, the radioactive particles damage your lung tissue and can cause lung cancer. You can have a healthier home simply by testing your home and taking the necessary actions to lower radon levels. The only way to know if you have radon in your home is to test, and what a better time to test than in the New Year? For more information on health risks, visit

Today let’s look to the future. Do not wait; test your home for radon and make the necessary repairs to your home, it could save your life.

About the author: Carmen Torrent a public affairs specialist in EPA’s Office of Indoor Air.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Why “Don’t Fry Day” Isn’t Just Another Friday

Go to EPA's Science Month pageAbout the author: A skin cancer survivor, Stephene Moore is the wife of Congressman Dennis Moore and a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program. She has been helping EPA’s SunWise Program since 2006. As part of this year’s Don’t Fry Day campaign, sponsored by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, EPA asked her to share her personal experience with skin cancer as a guest blogger on Greenversations. The Friday before Memorial Day is Don’t Fry Day.

image of author in radio studio
Stephene Moore, hours after Mohs surgery to remove a skin cancer above her lip, giving a radio interview.

With Don’t Fry Day just three days away, it’s important to remember to Slip on a shirt! Slop on some sunscreen! Slap on a hat! ® and Wrap on some sunglasses today and every day. I’ve learned the importance of being smart in the sun the hard way.

As a teen, I used to cover myself in baby oil that we girls all added iodine to, and sit out in the sun by the pool or in the backyard. As an adult, I even hopped into a tanning bed once in awhile to get a “safe tan” so I wouldn’t burn on a beach vacation! Little did I know at the time that there’s no such thing as a “safe tan,” unless it comes from a bottle.

My sun-seeking and tanning caught up with me in November, 2007. I was taking off my makeup and noticed a tiny black spot that I couldn’t wipe off. I waited a month before visiting my dermatologist in the hopes it would go away. When it didn’t, I set up an appointment. Just a few days after the doctor biopsied the spot on my nose, a nurse called with the results: it was skin cancer!

A small pit in my stomach began to form after hearing the “C” word: cancer. Hearing the word “cancer” used in the same sentence as my own name is a little unsettling. Luckily, the cancer I had was very treatable. I’ll never be able to say I’m cancer-free, but after three surgeries, the doctor was able to remove all the cancer they could find. The experience has left a lasting impression—literally and figuratively.

Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun are responsible for most skin cancers. UV reaches the Earth’s surface in two forms: UVA and UVB. UVA is associated with premature aging and wrinkling of the skin. UVB, which is associated with sunburn, is mostly blocked by the ozone layer. Unfortunately, the ozone layer isn’t perfect. While on behalf of the United States, EPA works with 194 other countries to heal the ozone layer, it’s more important than ever to be smart in the sun.

To protect my skin and eyes, I wear a hat and sunglasses, and keep extra sunscreen all over the house and in the car, so I remember to put it on year round. I’ll never know which day by the pool or trip to the tanning bed gave me cancer, but please learn from my mistakes and remember to Slip! Slop! Slap! ® and Wrap! each time you spend time outside.

For more sun safety tips from the SunWise Program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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