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Study raises renewed radon concerns

A new study about the role radon might play in blood cancers is raising renewed attention for the colorless, odorless gas.

Radon occurs naturally in the atmosphere from the decay of uranium and radium in the soil. When it is able to seep in through cracks in a house’s foundation and becomes trapped, it can accumulate in levels considered dangerous to people.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said for decades that radon is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer — behind only cigarette smoking — and is estimated to cause 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year in the U.S. Experts say it is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

A study by the American Cancer Society now indicates exposure to high radon levels could increase the risk of hematologic cancers — common blood cancers including bone marrow and lymph node cancers.

The study found that women living in areas with high radon levels were especially susceptible, with a 63 percent higher risk of getting a blood cancer.

Morgan is among several west-central Illinois counties that tests have shown could have elevated radon levels. But just because some tests show high concentrations doesn’t mean all houses are at risk; factors such as topography and construction methods can cause variations in radon levels.

In Morgan County, about 64 percent of tested sites registered high radon levels.

Jake English, owner of English Radon Measurement in Jacksonville, said radon is prevalent in Illinois and surrounding states.

“Radon is in the ground. It’s everywhere,” English said.

According to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency website, 174 out of 273 sites that were tested in Morgan County had levels at or above the stage at which exposure is a concern.

In Scott, Pike and Greene counties, 50 percent of tested sites showed elevated levels; Cass County had about 45 percent of tested sites showing excessive radon levels.

“There is no way to say which houses will get it,” English said. “It depends on a lot of factors.”

English said houses with good air circulation and ventilation typically have fewer issues.

Radon does not have any immediate side effects, but English said long-term exposure could lead to health problems.

“There’s not an acute effect,” English said. “It’s a chronic thing. Problems develop over time.”

Experts recommend that houses be tested every couple of years. Testing can be done by professionals, such as English, or through kits available at stores or online. Test can range from $10 to more than $200.

High radon levels are fairly easy to mitigate. Professionals can suggest ways to increase circulation or decrease the amount of radon entering the house.

“Now, more and more homes are being built with radon levels in mind,” English said. “There are new ways to build homes with the thought of keeping radon out.”

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