By Kelly Young
The second leading cause of lung cancer in this nation, radon poisoning will kill about 21,000 Americans this year — nearly 100 times more than the number of annual carbon monoxide fatalities.
In response to this danger, January has been designated as National Radon Action Month in an attempt to raise public awareness and to promote measures which could reduce the risks presented by radon.
A naturally occurring, colorless, odorless, radioactive gas, radon seeps into buildings through the soil, and can reach harmful levels if trapped indoors. Radon is also capable of leeching into groundwater and contaminating a water supply.
“Radon is formed from the natural decay of uranium deposits under ground. Radon has been found to be the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers,” said Kay Soper, an environmental specialist for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “Obviously, the higher the concentration of radon the greater the risk for lung cancer, but there is no ‘safe’ level of radon.”
Radon has been found in all areas of the world, and high radon levels have been reported in each state in this country. Although East Texas has historically only shown minimal signs of radon, DSHS encourages the public to be aware of the potential dangers of this hazardous gas.
“Overall, most of Texas is considered to have low potential for high radon levels, and East Texas in particular is a fairly low potential area. But that having been said, any house or building in Texas could have an elevated radon level,” she said. “It is very easy to test for radon, and it is recommended that everybody test — regardless of where you live.”
Soper said radon home testing kits are available through DSHS for free, or can be purchased online or at hardware stores for about $10. She said most kits consist of a tray of charcoal which is set on the bottom floor of the building for about three days. Once that period has ended, the kit is sealed and mailed to a lab where the charcoal will be analyzed for evidence of radon absorption. Results are typically provided by the lab within a few weeks.
The Environmental Protection Agency says radon can often be cleared from a building with a high reading by installing a vent pipe from the structure’s slab all the way to its roof — channeling the gas out above the building rather than allowing it to accumulate inside the house or office.
New home builders are also encouraged to include radon-resistant features into the construction of their new homes, so they will never need to worry about the presence of radon.
“It’s remarkably easy to protect loved ones by testing for radon and building new homes with radon-resistant features that allow everyone to breathe freely and safely,” said Marcus Peacock, EPA deputy administrator.
The Cherokee County Health Department was not available for comment regarding the frequency of local radon poisoning cases.
Although radon is capable of affecting groundwater, instances of that occurring are rare, and the gas is typically though of as a soil concern. Roy Rodgers, of the Neches and Trinity Valleys Groundwater Conservation District, said he has never encountered a single local case of radon being found in East Texas well water.
For more information about radon, visit epa.gov/radon or call 1-800-767-7236.
“There is always a low level of radon in the air around us; even in low risk areas, a little bit of the gas is present,” Soper said. “But by testing and using radon-resistant construction methods, we can help ensure that levels are kept low in the areas where people spend most of their time.”
By Kelly Young
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