Karen’s Kolumn is written by Karen Dolley our local area public health nurse… we appreciate her knowledge and her willingness to share!
The Environmental Protection Agency has designated January as National Radon Action Month. The goal is to increase the public’s awareness of radon, to promote radon testing, to decrease radon’s negative effects, and to advance the use of radon resistant new construction practices.
Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths among non-smokers in the United States. Radon is responsible for about 20,000 deaths in America every year. If you smoke AND your home has high levels of radon, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.
Radon is a cancer causing radioactive gas and is found all over the United States. The rocks and soils of Maine create more radon than most any other state. Piscataquis County is a county in Maine identified as having high levels of radon.
Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. You can’t see, smell, or taste radon.
Radon moves up from the ground to the air and into buildings through cracks or holes in the foundation, gaps around service pipes, cracks in solid floors, through construction joints, or through well water. Once in a building, radon gets trapped inside. High levels of radon are found in all types of buildings including schools, offices, and homes.
Radon levels vary from building to building. Just because your neighbor does not have a problem with radon does not mean you do not!
The average indoor level of radon in the United States is 1.3 pCi/L (picocuries per liter). If you have a level between 2 and 4 pCi/L, you should consider radon reduction interventions. Any level above 4 pCi/L should be fixed immediately. Approximately one in three Maine homes has an air radon concentration over 4. The average indoor radon level of Piscataquis County as determined by test results is 4.4 pCi/L! The Radiation Control Program provides free information packets containing information about radon and radon tip sheets. You can access this information by visiting www.maine.gov/dhhs/eng/rad/Radon, county-radon.info/ME/, and state-radon.info/ME/.
Very high concentrations of radon can be found in Maine drinking water. Most risk comes from radon released into the air when water is used for showering or other household purposes. Any result 20,000 pCi/L or higher should be reduced. Studies have shown that nearly one in five Maine wells have radon concentrations 20,000 pCi/L or higher. If your water comes from a private well, your water should be tested for radon.
Radon testing is easy. You can test yourself using a home kit that can be purchased at a home improvement store or a hardware store. There are also private companies that will come to your home and test for radon. The Radiation Control Program does register radon service providers that have a proven level of training and expertise. Visit the Maine Radon/IAQ program at www.maineradiationcontrol.org for test kits. Different venting techniques are widely used to decrease or diminish radon levels in a building.
For much more information about radon, visit www.epa.gov/radon.
To decrease your risk of lung cancer, make this the year to stop smoking AND to test your home and well water for radon! Resolve to make 2011 a healthy year!