Radon: cancer risk awareness

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
New York radon map

January is Radon Action Month, according to The Surgeon General. Health agencies throughout the United States have joined forces to promote awareness of the leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. Exposure to radon in the home is responsible for an estimated 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year. The American Lung Association, Centers for Disease Control, and National Cancer Institute all agree that radon is a National health problem and encourage radon testing during the January awareness drive.

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. In fact, a recent study by Harvard University ranks radon as America's number one in-home hazard. By taking simple steps to test your home for radon and fix if necessary, this health hazard can be avoided.

Radon gas is not isolated to certain geographical areas or home types. Radon problems have been detected in homes in every county of the U.S. According to Central New York Coalition for Healthy Indoor Air, there are 38 counties in New York that have been designated as high radon risk areas by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Health, because a large percentage of their test results indicate high radon levels. These include the Central New York counties of Cortland, Chemung, Steuben, Allegany, Tioga, Onondaga, Delaware, Oneida, Broome, Madison, Yates, Schuyler, Herkimer, Lewis, Tompkins and Cayuga.

Joseph Laquatra, professor of Human Ecology at Cornell University, wrote: “The important thing to note is that Yates County is a Zone 1 county, according to the EPA. That means that most homes in Yates have a predicted radon level of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). Every home in Yates should be tested. Those that test at 4 or higher should undergo radon mitigation.” Kathy Swarthout at Yates County Public Health reports that as of Oct. 2011, only 175 homes in Yates have been tested; 104 tested at reasonably safe levels of less than 4 pCi/L, 63 tested in the moderate risk range between 4 and 20 pCi/L, and 8 tested at the high risk range of 28 or more pCi/L. The highest home tested at a very high 69 pCi/L.

Radon caused more American fatalities last year than carbon monoxide, fires, and handguns combined. If a 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.

The federal commitment made by EPA, the General Services Administration, and the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Veterans Affairs will focus efforts on radon reduction and mitigation in homes, especially those of low-income families, many of whom do not have the resources to make the simple fixes necessary to protect their homes and loved ones. Learn more about the Federal Radon Action Plan at www.RadonPlan.org.

Low cost test kits can be ordered for $8.50 each by mailing a form available at www.health.ny.gov/environmental/radiological/radon/testkit.htm

Local hardware stores carry or can order kits for about $10 each.

Learn more about radon and national radon action month at: www.RadonMonth.org.