radon

Want Less Cancer from Environmental Causes? Let’s Get Building Codes to Reduce Radon

By Jani Palmer

As part of our Indoor Environments Division, my colleagues and I work to reduce people’s exposure to radon, the leading environmental cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water – where it naturally occurs. Radon gets into the air we breathe, and it can be found all over the country. It can get into any type of building — homes, offices and schools. You are most likely to get the greatest exposure at home, where you spend most of your time.

The good news is that radon is easy to detect and fix. Some radon reduction systems can reduce radon levels in your home by up to 99%. And, part of my job at EPA is to introduce radon safety features into state and local building codes, like adding a pipe to collect radon from under the home before it has a chance to get inside. If jurisdictions and states adopt codes that require radon-reducing features to be built into new homes and buildings, far fewer Americans would be at risk of getting lung cancer. After all, building a home with radon-reducing features is much cheaper and easier than fixing elevated radon levels in a home that has already been built.

Recently, I participated in the International Code Council’s International Green Construction Code hearing. At the hearing, my task was to ask the room full of committee members to not remove radon reduction features from the code. I only had two minutes to plead my case, and I think I delivered a powerful message.

Spoiler alert: The vote on my issue was not successful. One committee member believed that radon didn’t harm people; another believed that adding radon reducing features was too expensive. Neither of these are true. This means that we need to invest more time in educating codes professionals on radon. So, while I was there, I met stakeholders that just might help us succeed in the future.

Momentum is on our side. More and more state and local jurisdictions are adopting radon building codes, and many voluntary green labeling programs require radon testing and mitigation. Builders are also including radon-resistant construction techniques in new homes.

We’ll continue to work with states, local groups and industry to spread the word about the protection that radon codes offer, and we’ll continue trying to get radon covered by the International Code Council.

About the author: Jani Palmer is a scientist in the Office of Air and Radiation at EPA. She has provided indoor air quality and industrial hygiene services for public and private alike, and is currently serving as Radon Team Leader.

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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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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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Radon Risk? You Don’t Know Until You Test

By Henry Slack

My neighbors Pete and Beth (not their real names) met while in their twenties, and got married. A great couple. Had two beautiful girls, who grew up in no time at all – field trips and soccer, high school sports, college, adventures abroad. A strong couple, who helped lead the PTA, the band parents, you name it. Never smoked, good folks, the kind you like to have as neighbors.

Then Pete got lung cancer. They had some optimism over treatment, but the optimism faded as the disease strengthened, and he passed pretty quickly. Lung cancer, unfortunately, has a survival rate lower than many other types of cancer.

I don’t know for sure that Pete’s lung cancer was caused by radon. But, radon is the #1 cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. Elevated radon is found in one out of 15 homes nationally, and the only way to know if a home has high levels is to test it.

As EPA’s indoor air guy for the southeast, I get calls every day. Most people are worried about mold. A few are worried about odors, or chemicals they may have been exposed to, or some health issue that they think might be related to indoor air quality. Very few people call with concerns about radon – and yet, radioactive radon gas kills more people than any of those other things that people call about. Radon kills over 21,000 people a year in the U.S.

Twenty-one thousand. That’s around 400 a week, every week, every year. Some of them are parents, spouses, partners, best friends, and neighbors who leave behind a world of grief for family, like Beth.

Test your home. It’s easy and inexpensive. You can get low-cost test kits online through the National Radon Program Services or other vendors. And if you have a high level – 4 picocuries and above – get your home fixed.

About the Author: Henry Slack has been the Indoor Air coordinator in Region 4 since 1991 and still enjoys it. A mechanical engineer by training, he’s on the Radon Team, but has had assignments to CDC and Barbados. In 2014, he became a Distinguished Lecturer for American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), speaking about mold, indoor air, and ventilation.

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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It’s Time to Test Your Home for Radon

By Bob Dye

Football season is in full swing, leaves are starting to fall and furnaces will be heating our homes. With colder weather, people are spending more time indoors, sitting with their kids and friends, and watching their favorite college or professional teams on the tube. As people close up their house for winter to keep warm, it is an excellent time to test for radon.

U.S. EPA Radon PSA

U.S. EPA Radon PSA

Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the decay of naturally occurring radium and uranium in the soil. It is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and children are more sensitive to radon exposure as their lungs develop. The EPA estimates that as many as 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year are caused by radon exposure. Radon is colorless, tasteless and odorless, so the only way to know if your home has a problem is to test for it.

The EPA and the US Surgeon General recommend testing all homes for radon and if the levels are high, take steps to lower them. You can get low cost test kits through the National Radon Program Services at Kansas State University at http://sosradon.org/test-kits or you can contact your state radon program to find you where you can get a test kit.

Take steps to protect your health and your children’s health by testing your home. Order a test kit today. Get more information at www.epa.gov/radon.

Bob Dye is a radiation & indoor air specialist in EPA Region 7’s Air and Waste Management Division.

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 Awareness Success in Region 3

January, as National Radon Action Month, is a time to ramp up on radon awareness and celebrate the successes of the state indoor radon programs throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

Our mid-Atlantic partners have reached out to more than 2 million residents with information on what they can do to protect themselves from the dangers of radon.

Radon is a naturally occurring colorless, odorless radioactive gas, and is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, but testing for radon and reducing elevated levels when they are found can make your home healthier and safer.

Recognizing this, EPA and its state partners are highlighting radon testing and mitigation as a simple and affordable step to significantly reduce the risk for lung cancer.

For 2014, EPA awarded a total of $923,160 in State Indoor Radon Grants to the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services, Virginia Department of Health, and the District of Columbia Department of the Environment.  These grants will fund the states’ radon programs to address radon risk assessment, risk reduction and radon resistant new construction in homes and schools.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Radon Action Month – Test, Fix, Save a Life

If you’re like most people that make New Year’s resolutions, you’re probably trying to start the year off on the right foot by doing things to improve your health. Just go to nearly any gym during the first few weeks of January and you’ll see what I mean! Whether or not you resolved to be healthier in 2014, there is one easy-to-do step that you can take to protect the health of you and your family: test your home for radon.

Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of natural uranium deposits in soil and it can seep into homes through their foundation. High levels have been found in homes all across the country. EPA estimates that one in fifteen U.S. homes has elevated radon levels – but in some areas, the number can be as high as one out of every two.

And why is radon a health issue? Because it can be deadly. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Only smoking causes more. EPA estimates that about 21,000 people die from radon-induced lung cancer each year. It’s a very serious problem, but luckily there are simple solutions.

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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!

For more information

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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Al interior, el radón se destaca

Por Henry Slack

Durante los pasados veinte años, he ayudado a la EPA a reparar problemas de la contaminación del aire interior. El moho, los olores, los limpiadores de aire, los edificios enfermos, y muchos otros asuntos, he ayudado a la gente a entender cómo manejar estos problemas en sus hogares. El asunto clave que he aprendido: el contaminante de aire interior más insidioso es el radón.

El radón está escondido y es peligroso. No lo podemos ver ni oler. La única manera de saber si está presente es mediante una prueba. ¿Sabía que el radón en los hogares por primera vez atrajo la atención nacional como una amenaza pública después que un trabajador en una planta nuclear empezó a desencadenar las alarmas de radiación en la planta en que laboraba? El nivel del radón en su hogar era tan elevado que estaba transportando la radiación hacia la planta.  Sin embargo, él no tenía la menor idea de que su casa era radioactiva hasta que realizó la prueba. Como reza el dicho, “ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente”, se aplica en este caso.

El radón ocasiona cáncer de los pulmones. Es la segunda causa principal de dicho tipo de cáncer después del fumar. Ocasiona un estimado de 21,000 muertes de cáncer pulmonar al año. Algunos de mis familiares han padecido de cáncer. Es algo serio. La buena nueva, sin embargo, es que el cáncer pulmonar inducido por el radón (así como el fumar) puede ser prevenido. El realizar la prueba en su hogar y el tomar acciones correctivas para reducir los niveles elevados  es fácil, barato, y hay recursos locales disponibles para ayudar.

La EPA ha estado hablando acerca de los peligros del radón por décadas. Recientemente, el grupo Supervivientes de Cáncer en Contra del Radón (Cancer Survivors Against Cancer (CanSAR, por sus siglas en inglés)) se ha unido al esfuerzo para crear conciencia y ayudar a la gente a tomar acción para reducir su riesgo. Los miembros comparten sus historias personales acerca de los niveles elevados de radón en su hogar, cómo ellos o sus seres queridos lucharon en contra de la enfermedad, y cómo ellos quieren que otras personas realicen la prueba del radón en sus hogares. Su meta: que nadie más tenga que ver a un ser querido enfermarse o morir de cáncer pulmonar.

Las muertes de radón son completamente prevenibles. Por favor, haga la prueba del radón en su hogar y haga las reparaciones necesarias si tiene algún problema. Gracias.

Acerca del autor: Henry Slack de la oficina regional de la EPA en Atlanta ha enseñado y ayudado a la gente en el sureste con problemas de aire interior por más de 20 años. Sus conocimientos de la química (B.S.) y la ingeniería mecánica (M.S.) le han ofrecido un trasfondo sólido en este campo. También ha sido un integrante activo en organizaciones como el U.S. Green Building Council y la American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Engineers Air-conditioning (ASSHRAE).

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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Making a Healthy Home for a Healthier Life

By Lina Younes

There are many expressions regarding the concept of the home. My favorites are “home is where the heart is” and in Spanish, the welcoming expression, “mi casa es su casa” (my home is your home).  But have you stopped to think if your home is truly a warm, inviting and HEALTHY environment?

Did you know that our homes may have hidden environmental risks that may affect our health? What are some of these environmental risks?

  • Indoor air quality – Poor ventilation systems may lead to indoor air pollution that in turn can adversely affect people with asthma or heart and respiratory problems.
  • Mold – Do you have a leaky faucet or roof? Excess moisture may lead to the growth of mold which is a known trigger of asthma attacks.
  • Lead – Was your house built before 1978? It may have lead-based paint. Lead is a toxic metal that adversely affects people’s nervous system and causes behavioral, learning and hearing problems.
  • Radon – Did you know that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers? Radon is an invisible and odorless gas produced during the natural process of the decomposition of uranium. The gas may accumulate inside your home leading to radon exposure. Have your home tested!
  • Pests – Household pests can carry diseases and trigger asthma attacks. Use integrated pest management techniques. Don’t give pests any food, water or shelter in your home.
  • Pesticides:  Read the label before using pesticides to get rid of pests. Used improperly, pesticides may harm a developing child by blocking the absorption of food nutrients necessary for normal growth.  Also, during “critical periods” of human development (including infancy and childhood), exposure to toxins can permanently alter the way a person’s biological systems operate.

Given these potential environmental hazards in our home that may lead to serious public health problems, federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are working to improve the safety of your home.  Just this week, EPA and its sister agencies launched a new initiative Advancing Healthy Housing – A Strategy for Action” to establish a comprehensive agenda for addressing environmental health and safety hazards in our nation’s housing.

Advancing Healthy Housing – A Strategy for Action shows how federal agencies and our partners, at all levels, can collaborate to prevent health threats associated with the home environment. You can do your part to make sure your home is safe for you and your family.  Simple steps for identifying and addressing hazards in the home can be found in EPA’s Healthy Homes  brochure, “Make Your House a Healthy Home.”

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government 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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