by Nancy Nelson, Staff Writer
Mother nature has provided us with many wondrous and beautiful things. We have oxygen to breath from the plants, water to drink from the lakes and rivers and food to eat from the plants that spring forth from the earth. However, more than 10,000 years ago when the glaciers left their wide path of valleys and hills as they receded, they left behind deadly deposits of uranium in the soil, rocks and water. The natural radioactive breakdown of the uranium creates an invisible radioactive gas that we know as radon.
Radon gas easily moves through the soil and finds it's way into any type of building - homes, offices, and schools. When it gets indoors and builds up the result is high levels of indoor radon. It gets into our homes most commonly through cracks in foundations and openings around sump pumps, pipes and drains.
You can not see, feel, taste or smell radon gas. There are no physical symptoms or signs that occur that give you any indication that radon is in your home. Yet it is the second leading cause of lung cancer. In fact, the only disease radon causes is lung cancer.
Radon occurs all over the United States with different areas of the country at one of three levels for potential radon. Zone 3 has the lowest potential for radon, Zone 2 has a moderate potential for radon and Zone 1 has the highest potential for radon. It is interesting to note that the entire state of Iowa is included in Zone 1.
A recent study titled, "The Iowa Radon Lung Cancer Study," published in the American Journal of Epidemiology indicates that residential radon exposure is a significant cause of lung cancer. The study included 1,027 Iowa female residents, age 40-84 years old, both non-smokers and smokers. Of those women 413 were newly diagnosed with lung cancer and 614 were "controls" in the study. These women were chosen because they have lived in their current home for at least 20 consecutive years or more. They were also chosen because they typically have less occupational exposures to substances that may cause lung cancer, and historically have spent more time in the home.
Radon levels are measured in units called picoCuries per liter (pCi/L). If a radon test result comes back with levels higher that 4 pCi/L then it is strongly recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that you corrective action be taken.
Researchers in the study found that close to 60 percent of the basement radon concentrations for both the lung cancer participants and the control group participants exceeded the EPA's action level for radon. They also found that close to 30 percent of the living areas in both groups exceeded the action level of radon. You can view the details of the completed study by visiting www.cheec.uiowa.edu/misc/radon.html on the web.
Combining the exposure to tobacco smoking and radon more exponentially increases the chances of getting lung cancer for individuals. If 1,000 people who smoked were exposed to a radon level of 20 pCi/L over a lifetime, at least 135 of those could get lung cancer. Meanwhile, if 1,000 people who never smoked were exposed to this level over a lifetime only about eight people could get lung cancer.
To determine if your home has a high level of radon a simple and inexpensive test is available from the Cherokee County Environmental Health Office. The cost of the kit is $5 and includes the testing and postage. Aimee Barritt, Sanitarian for Cherokee county says the test are easy to use and should be hung at breathing level in the lowest lived in level of your home. After completing the test you simply send it through the mail in the container it came in and the results are sent directly to you.
Of the most recent 14 testing kits sent in for testing from Cherokee county ten of those came back with levels higher than 4 pCi/L. The highest being 19.6 pCi/L and the average results were around 7-8 pCi/L. Ideally, radon levels should be zero. Barritt also states that there have been more several tests in the county over the years that have levels above 20 pCi/L. These numbers put a local face on the problem of radon in our area and hopefully will prompt all homeowners to get their homes tested for radon and take corrective action if necessary.
Corrective action can be taken to eliminate the threat of radon in your home. You can all the Cherokee County Environmental Health office at 225-6721 and Barritt will put in touch with one of the state certified radon mitigators. The average cost to correct radon problems runs around $1200 according to Barritt. When compared to the cost of potential health care due to lung cancer caused by radon it seems like a rather minuscule amount of money.