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'No one should get lung cancer from radon'

'No one should get lung cancer from radon'

A two-year lung cancer survivor, Gail Orcutt has shared her story many times, with one unexpected detail — she’s never smoked. Her cancer was attributed to prolonged exposure to radon — a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas produced from the decay of naturally occurring uranium in the soil.

“Iowans are in so much danger, and they don’t know it,” Orcutt said. “This has got to be the most preventable type of cancer there is. No one should get lung cancer from radon.”

Orcutt was diagnosed in May 2010 after suffering a cough and wheeze believed to be from allergies. Secondhand smoke was one cause physicians considered until Orcutt read a magazine article about radon. That led her to test her Pleasant Hill home.

The results came back at 6.9 pCi/L. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends homes with levels above 4 install radon-mitigation systems. In Iowa, seven of 10 homes have levels above that — the highest in the U.S.

Dr. Bill Field, a radon expert and professor at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, said glaciers deposited rock from the Canadian Shield in Iowa. The rocks were pulverized in such small sizes that it allowed for a large rock surface area for radon to be produced.

Radon can enter homes through cracks, around pipes or between the floor and wall joists in basements. When inhaled, it can damage lung tissue, making it the second-leading cause of lung cancer.

About 23,000 people die from radon annually in the U.S. — 400 in Iowa alone. Orcutt’s treatment involved removal of one lung, followed by chemotherapy. She has since worked with the Iowa Radon Coalition and the American Lung Association in Iowa to educate the public about radon.

“You shouldn’t be afraid to test. You want to know you’re breathing safe air. You want to know you’re living without undue exposure to radiation,” she said.

Test kits run around $10 and are available through many local health departments, the lung association and hardware stores. Homeowners hang the short-term tests in the lowest livable area of their home for several days, then mail the packets for analysis.

Elevated results might signal that a long-term test be used for up to 12 months or that a mitigation system be installed, said John DeRosa, environmental program manager with the American Lung Association who oversees the Iowa Radon Hotline.

For better accuracy, the lung association recommends using two short-term tests four inches apart. Homes should be tested every two years, and those with new windows or improvements that disturbed the soil should also be retested, DeRosa said. Levels can vary from house to house within neighborhoods.

Iowa requires that day care centers be tested every two years. However, radon advocates are lobbying for additional legislation:

• Radon-resistant new construction, recently adopted in Illinois and part of building codes in three Iowa counties. The cost runs about $400. Field said more homes are being built without radon-resistant features than existing homes are being mitigated. The result is more homes requiring radon reduction than 10 years ago.

• Requiring radon testing/disclosure for all home sales.

• Mandatory testing of K-12 public school buildings, with mitigation.

• Tax credits/financial assistance for mitigation.

• Funding for radon education.

Bill Goebel of MB Radon Service in Urbandale said the changes are needed.

“I talk to quite a few people who’ve had lung cancer. It’s so preventable. It’s a shame more isn’t being done at some level to get the word out and require more testing,” he said.

He’s seen an increase in calls since radon information was included on real estate disclosure forms as of 2009, and due to the lung association’s awareness efforts.

Goebel also assists in training sessions sponsored by the Iowa Department of Public Health, which maintains a list of licensed and certified mitigation professionals. More specialists are getting into the business and, as part of the class, he demonstrates how to install a ventilation pipe running from the basement floor to the roof of a customer’s home.

Orcutt had a similar system installed in her house. The cost averages $1,200.

“It’s a home improvement. If your roof was leaking, you wouldn’t put that off,” she said.

read more here: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20130109/LIFE/301090013/1038/opinion04/?odyssey=nav%7Chead&nclick_check=1