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Bill Angell's Personal and Professional Radon Story

Why Do I Care About Radon?

Professional

My interest in radon began in the early 1970s as an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in Housing at the University of Minnesota. I was fascinated by scientific reports about elevated indoor radon in Maine homes due to well water transport and in Swedish high rise apartments due to emanation from concrete.

In the latter 1970s, a professional colleague, Susan Leigh, became the Director for Governmental Affairs for the Florida Home Builders Association. Over a number of beers we discussed her members’ frustrations dealing with concerns about developing phosphate-rich lands because of elevated radon.

In the early 1980s, my research interests focused upon performance of housing, especially moisture dynamics, and I was invited to become an American Society of Testing and Material’s Faculty Fellow. During this same period, I also served as the lead expert witness for the Minnesota Attorney General and the U.S. Department of Justice in criminal suits involving fraud in the basement waterproofing industry. Again, radon was a topic in the scientific literature I was reviewing. Also during this time, I became the Chairman of the Board of a non-profit organization that weatherized about 1,500 low-income homes each year. In this capacity, I worked in the field with our crews when there were concerns about carbon monoxide, radon, and moisture problems.

In the mid-1980s, the Minnesota Governor asked me to lead the State’s investigation of mold contamination and indoor air quality problems in a group of 5,000 Tri-State Homes. The homes were exceptionally air-tight without proper ventilation. We considered recommending additional exhaust ventilation but abandoned that thought because of concern we would elevate indoor radon and backdraft combustion appliances. This experience taught me two critical lessons: 1) the importance of public-private partnerships when dealing with indoor air quality concerns; and 2) the power of joint clinical, epidemiological, and building science-based investigations.

In 1988, I wrote my first publications on radon, one on mitigation and another on radon testing in real estate transaction. I also put together a tribal hands-on radon mitigation course, held a radon conference for 250 people, attended EPA’s first international radon symposium, and authored a competitive EPA proposal that led to the Midwest Universities Radon Consortium.

In the early 1990s, I had a major involvement in EPA’s radon in schools research and testified before a hostile U.S. Senate committee on the scientific and technical foundation behind the U.S. radon program. I also joined Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for two summers as a Visiting Scientist working on school indoor air quality. In 2000, I had the great opportunity to work with EPA’s Radiation and Indoor Environments National Laboratory on the development of a strategic plan for indoor air quality research. Shortly thereafter, I was elected to the Board of the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (AARST) and then Vice President and President.

In 2005, I was invited to join the World Health Organization’s International Radon Project and to Chair the Prevention and Mitigation Working Group.

I am so totally grateful for these professional opportunities to work with so many great colleagues on radon risk reduction through research, training, policy and practice.

Personal

In 1987, my sister lost her 38 year old husband, Barry Sugarman, to lung cancer. He never smoked and I will never know if radon was part of the cause of his death but I must suspect that it could have been a factor.

About 20 years later, I met Liz Hoffman who founded Cancer Survivors Against Radon (CanSAR) and, like anyone else who has met her, my heart was touched by her story and her courage to speak out. I saw when told her story on a series news casts, more than 100,000 people tested their homes for radon and another 10,000 who had tested were moved to initiate mitigation. Liz taught me a lesson that I will never forget and that is

In the fall of 2007, there was a knock at my office door and the voice said, “I lost my mother to lung cancer; she never smoked. Should I be concerned about my daughters exposure to radon?” The voice was that of Michele Byfield. Today, Michele and I are married.

There are so many other personal joys that have come through the opportunity to work with colleagues in industry, states, tribes, EPA, the academic world, and in the international community. Thank you.

User photo for: Vickie Swenson

Hi,

This is Vickie Swenson. We met at the IAQA Chapter meeting. I will see you soon at one of your upcoming Radon classes. For now, I'll be reading your blog.

Kindly,

Vickie Swenson
Minnesota Mold Inspection
(612) 508-2742