national radon action month

Please Test for Radon to Protect Yourself and Your Family from Lung Cancer

Do you know what the second leading cause of lung cancer is, after smoking? It’s radon, an odorless gas that can seep into your home. Because it cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled, it can be easy to forget.

The fact is, though, that EPA, the U.S. Surgeon General, and multiple leading public health advocates have all announced that about 21,000 Americans each year die from radon-induced lung cancer. That should make headlines, right? You would expect people to demand that something be done to stop it from happening. The threat from radon is real and we make the announcement each year during National Radon Action Month. Many of our families have been tragically impacted by lung disease, and lung cancer is a heartbreaking diagnosis.

Testing is the only way to know if your family’s home has elevated radon. Nationally, one in 15 homes are above the level at which the U.S. Surgeon General and EPA recommend taking action, which is four picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air. In many parts of the country high levels are even more common.

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National Radon Action Month

By Wendy Dew

I work in EPA’s Denver regional office, and we’re proud to congratulate 14-year-old Maison Ann Williams, from Utah, who was the first place winner in the 2014 National Radon Poster Contest. It never ceases to amaze me how engaged kids are in protecting the environment.

Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. EPA estimates there are about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year from radon exposure in the U.S. It can be found all over the U.S. and it can get into any type of building — homes, offices, and schools. You can’t see radon, and you can’t smell or taste it, but it may be a problem in your home. The good news is that you can pretty easily fix the problem.

It’s important to get your home tested; I should know. We knew our new house in Colorado had higher than safe levels of radon (it’s built on a large granite boulder, surrounded by decomposing granite). Within a few weeks of moving in, we put in a radon mitigation system with a commercial-sized fan and two vents in our basement. We tested continuously for a year, and our levels went down to safer levels. Whew!

Teaching others about radon, and what you can do about it, is where the poster contest comes in, which we run with Kansas State University. Tell your kids that entries for this year’s contest will be accepted from March through October. Students ages 9-14 from states and tribal nations across the country, and all U.S. territories, are encouraged to create posters that raise radon awareness and encourage radon testing in every home. The top three national winners will win a prize, and their poster will be used in radon awareness efforts.

I’m so glad that students like Maison are helping to spread the word about radon and the danger it can pose to families. Remember: test, test, and test some more if you do not know what the radon levels are in your home. January is National Radon Action Month … what a great time to test!

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About the author: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA Region 8.

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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Local Artist Warns about the Dangers of Radon

Even though today is officially the last day of National Radon Action Month, unhealthy levels of radon in households across the U.S. is an especially serious issue during cold winter months, when windows and doors are kept closed. EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck caught up with NYC resident and LaGuardia high school student Laura Dabalsa, the first place winner in the EPA and Kansas State University’s national Radon Poster Contest. In this candid video segment, the Regional Administrator explains that high levels of radon can be fixed simply and inexpensively so long as we all do our part to assist in promoting public awareness. Tune in to the clip below for a great shot of Laura’s poster, a fitting example of how art can be used educate the public on the dangers of radon.

[flv width=”480″ height=”351″]http://www.epa.gov/region02/mediacenter/video/2012_national_radon_poster_conest_winner_hires.flv[/flv]

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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Science Wednesday:Five Letter Word for an Inert, Radioactive Gas

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection.Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Jack Barnette

The other day, I was trying a rather difficult crossword puzzle when I stumbled across this clue – a five letter word for an inert, radioactive gas. Well, it’s got to be R-A-D-O-N. I know that one because radon and indoor air quality issues are a big part of my job at EPA. I wish the rest of the puzzle was that easy!

January is National Radon Action Month, so I’m blogging to increase awareness of radon’s dangers – and fortunately, here I can provide a lot more information than a crossword clue.

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that comes from radioactive uranium in soil and rocks. Since radioactive materials break down and change over time, you might guess that uranium disintegrates. It does, into radium, and after more time, radium disintegrates into radon. Since radon is a gas, it moves around easily through soil and flows from the ground into the atmosphere or into homes, schools, and other buildings. Are you starting to get why I’m concerned with the radon levels in homes?

It’s crazy but true that our own homes can actually make it easier for radon to enter. Take where I live for example; in our cold Midwest climate we need to heat our homes. As we heat the air, the warmer air rises and creates higher pressure upstairs and lower pressure downstairs, or what I can best describe as a low-powered, but steady and insidious vacuum sucking on the soil underneath the house. Yeah, my house sucks! This is a major reason why we see elevated levels of radon in some buildings.

What’s even more insidious is that while you can’t see or smell radon it can still harm you.. Radon releases alpha particles as it continues to break down. In your lungs, alpha particles slam into tissue and cause damage. Breathing in too many alpha particles can cause serious health consequences, including cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, and the first cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers.

To protect the health of yourself and your family from radon, remember these tips: Test, Fix and Save a Life. The only way to know if you have elevated levels of radon in your home/school is to test. If you find high levels (4 picoCuries/L or more), fix your home – it’s easy, and might just save a life; check out EPA’s radon website. I wish the rest of the puzzle was as easy as testing for radon!

About the author: Jack Barnette is an environmental scientist with the Air and Radiation Division in EPA’s regional office in Chicago. Mr. Barnette has been with the U.S.EPA since 1984. Before joining EPA Barnette worked for the Illinois state environmental agency. Mr. Barnette works on a number of environmental and public health issues including indoor air quality, radiation protection, asthma education, and air monitoring.

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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The Radon Kids

By Wendy Dew

You are never too young to start saving the world! Kids of all ages are tackling tough environmental issues with enthusiasm and drive.
Eric,10, and sister Christina, 12, have founded the grassroots initiative RAP-Detect to Protect, a collaborative with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the American Lung Association. The objective of Radon Awareness Project, or RAP, is to work in partnership with city, county and state offices to assure that families, schools and elected officials are aware of the potential threat. Christina was recently recognized for her entry in the Colorado 2011 Radon Poster Contest. This is their third award in the contest. Their first came in 2008 when they first learned of the contest and radon.

January is National Radon Action Month and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and eight other federal agencies are announcing a new effort to strengthen the fight against radon exposure. Radon exposure is the leading cause of non-smoking lung cancer.
Radon is a naturally-occurring, invisible and odorless radioactive gas. One in 15 American homes contains high levels of radon. Millions of Americans are unknowingly exposed to this dangerous gas. By taking simple steps to test your home for radon and fix if necessary, this health hazard can be avoided.

If your home hasn’t been tested for radon in the past two years, EPA and the Surgeon General urge you to take action. Contact your state radon office for information on locating qualified test kits or qualified radon testers.

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About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 13 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

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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My Long Relationship with One Serious Health Risk – Radon

By Lou Witt

January is National Radon Action Month — a key time to focus on a year-round effort — and I’ve seen a lot of them. For more than 18 years, I have worked to improve indoor air quality; much of that time focused on radon risk reduction. Unfortunately, for more years than I’d like to mention, I’ve probably been exposed to elevated levels of radon and didn’t even know it.

Growing up, I spent innumerable hours in our basement play/party room — often with family and friends — ignorant, but blissful. How much radon was I exposed to? I don’t know; No one knew to test. It was probably higher than I’d like to think about as our home was in an area with high radon potential.

Fortunately, when I bought my own home, I knew to test regardless of location. I may even vaguely remember that it was quickly mentioned during the sale. When I tested the lowest floor of my home, my result was 18 picocuries per liter of air of radon –—pretty far above EPA’s action level of 4 pCi/l. Since I spent very little time in the cellar — it’s really not a livable space — I measured on the first floor. It was right below 4 pCi/l. A lower number would have been better, but at least I’m under EPA’s action level.

Radon is one health risk we can all avoid and it’s simple. Test your home and fix the problem. Mitigating a radon problem costs about the same as other household repairs and this change can save your life.

Get information on radon and find information for your state radon office.

About the author:  Lou Witt, program analyst for the Center for Radon and Air Toxics, Indoor Environments Division.

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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Taking Action on Radon in Your School District? No Better Time than the Present!

By Jani Palmer

Three months ago I blogged to parents and teachers about opportunities for kids to participate in a radon poster contest to get their design on a T-shirt to celebrate National Radon Action Month. Responses were abundant, and let me tell you the posters being voted on as I blog are phenomenal! A T-shirt is a great way to raise awareness about indoor air quality bu the best way to protect against radon is to test. I used to work on indoor air quality in a school district, so I know about the only time to get something substantial done is during holiday breaks. I know it crept up on us, but the holidays are here, so what better time to test your school for radon than right now?

Radon control is as integral to school health as other IAQ management activities and fits right in with your IAQ Tools for Schools management activities. About half of our nation’s schools are deploying these activities, providing healthier learning environments fo about 27 million students and 2.5 million staff. If your school doesn’t use the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit, take a look at the graphic here from the kit that shows how an effective school IAQ program integrates planning, communicating and four other key drivers. Why not attend the 11th IAQ Tools for Schools National Symposium in January? Click here for information from the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit on how you can manage radon along with your other day-to-day IAQ duties.

Radon testing and mitigation don’t have to be scary topics, because radon is so easily identified and fixed. What is scary is that radon causes cancer. Testing is the only way to know if your building has radon, and knowing if your building has radon is the first step toward fixing it. Having trouble knowing where to start? Contact your state radon program for guidance through the process.

Across the country, school facilities staff are working hard to protect IAQ for students, teachers, and staff. If you know about a school district that’s doing a great job, be sure to congratulate them with a quick note below. Their dedication and perseverance to maintaining healthy building by fixing holes, changing ceiling tiles and testing rooms can make a huge difference in someone’s life, and for that, they deserve our thanks!

About the author: Jani Palmer is a Physical Scientist in the Indoor Environments Division. She has been in the indoor air quality and industrial hygiene field for 10 years providing environmental consulting and services for school districts, industry, and public agencies.

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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Radon Reflections at the Tools for Schools Symposium

January is National Radon Action Month, or NRAM. Read more about EPA’s radon activities and what others are doing to reduce their radon exposure.

Each year, EPA’s Indoor Environments Division hosts an indoor air quality, or IAQ, symposium in Washington D.C. This year’s 10th IAQ Tools for Schools National Symposium took place January 14 to 16 — during National Radon Action Month. As a scientist for EPA’s Center for Radon and Air Toxics, naturally I was delighted to have the opportunity to present radon information at the symposium.

Workgroup meeting at Indoor Air Quality SymposiumThis year’s symposium featured five school districts with specific IAQ design challenges. Each attendee played an integral role as a design team member, formulating strategies to help a school district improve IAQ management. As I interacted with teams, I discovered IAQ stakeholders in many forms: facilities managers, building technicians, nurses, principals, government and even parents. Despite their different roles, people were passionate for school health and worked together to produce excellent solutions in a short period of time.

Discussions about radon were abundant at the symposium. While sipping my latte, a man started a conversation about radon in his school district. He whispered as if it were a secret, “We build radon prevention right into our new school designs.” My eyes lit up so bright; I think I startled him, or maybe he thought I was going to hug him. The importance of preventing pollutants from entering a building is no secret; think about how vapor barriers, gutters and even window screens keep a number of pollutants safely out of the indoor environment.

I overheard someone say, “How will they know if they don’t test?” I smiled and shook my head vigorously in agreement. Clearly this person had just grasped how important it is to test for radon. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, three children were recognized during the National Radon Poster Contest awards luncheon, and EPA’s Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, touted the benefits of recognizing radon in school IAQ.

As I reflect on activities at the symposium, it’s clear that radon is certainly at the forefront of school IAQ management. My hope is that symposium attendees will share their reflections on the symposium here or blog about it on radonleaders.org. Please comment, reply and get your story out there.

About the Author: Jani Palmer is a Physical Scientist in the Indoor Environments Division. She has been in the indoor air quality and industrial hygiene field for 10 years providing environmental consulting and services for school districts, industry, and public agencies.

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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How Do You Market Behavior Change?

January is National Radon Action Month, or NRAM. Read more about EPA’s radon activities and what others are doing to reduce their radon exposure.

I was buying shampoo yesterday and was, for some reason, drawn to a particular brand I had never bought before. I didn’t realize why I was drawn to this particular product until later that day when I caught myself humming the jingle of the shampoo’s commercial on my walk home.

What influences you to change your behavior in your day to day life? An article? A friend’s message? A public official’s warning?

Our goal in public health marketing is changing individual’s behaviors, but influencing someone to test their home for radon can be challenging. Science has informed our thinking about radon. Now, we’re challenged to convey actionable messages to the public.

EPA and its partners have promoted radon awareness through a national media campaign. All of EPA’s public service announcements, or PSAs, are actually free for the public to download for TV, radio and print.

In 2001, the National Academy of Television, Arts, and Sciences bestowed a national Emmy Award to the PSA, “Take the National Radon Test: Man on the Street,” for raising awareness of the health effects of radon.

Because information from a trusted source often moves people to act, EPA developed a campaign around the Surgeon General’s Warning against radon. Similarly, the National Conference for State Legislatures works with other partners to air state legislator’s messages on local radio stations during NRAM 2010. Last year, 154 legislators urged their constituents to test their homes for radon through these PSAs.

EPA has also bundled the radon message with other environmental movements to reach the public in new ways. For example, radon is now part of a larger green campaign to sock it to radon. EPA also sponsored a YouTube video contest to promote the message: “Radon. Test. Fix. Save a Life.” The winning entry, Eddie’s Story, can be found on our Website.

EPA’s radon marketing efforts are expanding to reach a variety of audiences, but there is always room to grow. What is science without an actionable message? What have you done to influence individual behavior change through public messaging?

About the author: Rebecca L. Reindel, MFS, is an Association of Schools of Public Health Environmental Health Fellow in the Indoor Environments Division, part of the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air. She is completing her Master’s Degree in Public Health at the George Washington University. She holds a Master’s in Forensic Toxicology and has previously addressed workplace exposures for taxi drivers and was an instructor at GWU.

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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Kids, Creativity and the National Radon Poster Contest

January is National Radon Action Month, or NRAM. Read more about EPA’s radon activities and what others are doing to reduce their radon exposure.

Two months ago, I helped judge the 2010 National Radon Poster Contest.

What amazed me most was the amount of creativity in the posters submitted by children, aged 9 to 14. Several times I assumed I was staring at an entry from a junior high student and it turned out to be from a fourth grader … a fourth grader! It gave me a great opportunity to appreciate children as messengers for environmental causes. The amount of poster entries this year was incredible: 216 schools in 36 states, one U.S. territory and seven tribal nations created a total of 2,862 posters!

Creators of the winning 2010 posters are being recognized today at the Indoor Air Quality Tools for School Symposium in Washington, D.C. The national first place winner is pictured in this column and you can find posters for all national, state, territorial and tribal nation winners here. Posters were judged on criteria set by the National Safety Council, Kansas State University, and Environmental Protection Agency, co-sponsors of the 2010 contest.

It’s important to get children involved early with simple messages. Some messages we stress through the Radon Poster contest are:

  • Radon is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless.
  • Radon is a radioactive gas that can reach harmful levels if trapped indoors.
  • Radon comes from the soil underneath your home.
  • Radon causes lung cancer.

Simple messages to children inspire adults to take action. Our action message is clear, “Test. Fix. Save a life.” That is, test for radon in your home, school and other buildings; fix existing radon problems; and build new homes to be radon resistant.

Kansas State University’s National Radon Program will co-sponsor upcoming radon poster contests. Get involved! Promote the National Radon Poster Contest at your school. Organize a local awards ceremony to honor the winner selected by your school, community or state. Contact your state radon program to get started.

Children play key roles as messengers. They are our radon, and environmental, advocates of the future.

About the Author: Rebecca L. Reindel, MFS, is an Association of Schools of Public Health Environmental Health Fellow in the Indoor Environments Division, part of the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air. She is completing her Master’s Degree in Public Health at the George Washington University. She holds a Master’s in Forensic Toxicology, has previously addressed workplace exposures for taxi drivers and is an instructor at GWU.

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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