Radon in the News
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A $10 Test Can Determine If Your Home Has Dangerous Levels of Radon
PORTLAND, Ore.-- -- Say the words "lung cancer" and cigarettes and secondhand smoke jump to mind.
But Oregon public health officials want people to think of another word: radon.
The gas found in homes around the state is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, according to the American Lung Association.
The gas, which occurs naturally when uranium in soil and rocks breaks down, is colorless and odorless.
The only way to find out if dangerous levels of radon are in your home is to test for it.
“I’ve been reluctant to do it because I’m afraid my house is going to have radon and I’m going to have to fix it,” said Alix Land, who lives in northeast Portland. “And for long as I don’t know that it has it, then I don’t have to do anything, which I know is crazy, but that’s the case.”
In 10 years, Dana Schmidt hopes to eliminate Castlegar’s radon problem through education and prevention.
When Schmidt’s wife, Donna, passed away of lung cancer two years ago, he took it upon himself to research different causes of the disease.
He found Castlegar had the highest rate of radon gas in the province (the first is Clearwater) and it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.
He started the Donna Schmidt Memorial Radon Abatement Fund to inform people about the risk of radon and the effect of lung cancer and to help people detect radon in their homes.
Radon is a colourless, odorless and tasteless gas found in the granite and rock around Castlegar. It occurs naturally as the decay product of uranium and flows through gravel into the air.
Through testing, Schmidt says 46 per cent of Castlegar’s homes are above Canadian standards and 57 per cent are above U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.
SALT LAKE CITY — The worry about trace amounts of radiation in milk and contamination from Japan reaching the West Coast — and some believe, Utah — has reignited the debate over what level of radiation is safe.
But nuclear engineers say everyone is exposed to radiation every day. There are even common household items that will set off a Geiger counter.
Gary Sandquist, professor emeritus of nuclear engineering from the University of Utah, says Utahns are exposed to more radiation every day than those living at sea level, since exposure goes up for each hundred feet of elevation.
Plus, Utah's rich granite deposits in the Wasatch Mountains contribute to radiation exposure.
"We have a lot of granite, and we also have an active fault, the Wasatch Fault," Sandquist said. "And this material, as a result, allows radon and other materials to move in."
Unsafe amounts of the potentially toxic gas radon were found in fifth-grade classrooms, the guidance office and other rooms in the southern wing of Two Rivers Middle School, one of 35 Metro schools tested last month.
Two Rivers had some of the highest levels found by the radon tests, but 29of the schools tested had trace amounts at levels higher than the Environmental Protection Agency says is safe, according to results released Friday by the Metro Public Health Department, which led the testing.
"We haven't gotten calls yet. Those will probably start on Monday as everyone runs to see what the report says," Two Rivers Principal Bill Moody said, adding that the school may get parent requests to move their children to other classrooms.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas released during the decay of uranium, found in most rock and soil and common in Middle Tennessee. Continued exposure over time can lead to lung cancer.
The detection of trace amounts radioactive isotope Iodine-131 this week in milk being sold in Spokane has raised anew questions about the extent of radiation exposure from the Japan nuclear crisis.
But officials say people are exposed to more radiation in their homes each day than from drinking milk.
The Spokane area has higher naturally occurring radiation levels than other parts of the state, but that is mostly due to elevated radon levels in the soil, said Dr. Joel McCullough, Spokane County health officer.
Indeed, homeowners here have been urged for decades to have their homes tested for radon, which can be abated.
There is no danger from milk in this region, officials said, nor is there a radiation danger posed by drinking water or precipitation.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Members of the public voting on line will decide the winner of the 2011 Illinois High School Radon Video Contest.
The contest -- promoting awareness of dangerous-but-naturally occurring radon gas -- is sponsored by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the American Lung Association in Illinois.
Online voting will be through midnight April 5.
Ten finalists were chosen from nearly 100 videos submitted. A panel of judges from the sponsors reviewed the entries for accuracy, creativity and effectiveness in encouraging people to test their homes for the radioactive gas.
Prizes for first, second and third places will be awarded. First prize is $2,000 to the winning school and $1,000 to the class or student creator.
Listen to this story.
STEVE INSKEEP, host: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host: And I'm Renee Montagne.
We've heard about radiation from the damaged nuclear reactors in Japan reaching American shores. Experts say so far there is no reason to worry and point out that we encounter radiation every day.
To find out more, we reached Peter Caracappa. He's a radiation safety officer and professor of nuclear engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Welcome to the program.
Dr. PETER CARACAPPA (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute): Hello. Thank you.
MONTAGNE: How many things emit radiation?
Dr. CARACAPPA: Well, radiation and radioactive material is kind of a part of nature. So everything that's living has some amount of radiation coming from it, a very small amount. Plus, there's radiation in the ground and the air.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Metro Nashville teachers are demanding action from the school board following a NewsChannel 5 investigation. They're concerned about dangerous levels of the cancer-causing gas radon in classrooms.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer.
The last time Metro schools were tested for radon was in 1989, as part of an EPA study. Those tests showed extremely high levels of the radioactive gas.
"I would not want my child in there, or my wife, or myself," said environmental engineer Doug Taylor, as he looked through school maps detailing radon test results.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained the maps that show radon levels in every classroom of the 11 schools tested by the EPA in 1989.
"I mean they're extremely high" remarked Taylor.
Every day, everyone on earth is bathed in low-level radiation from cosmic rays, radon gas and other sources. Many people also undergo medical X-rays and airport scans. How much is too much?
Don’t worry too much about the hint of radiation reaching U.S. shores from the damaged nuclear reactors in Japan, experts say.
So far, it’s much less than we’d get from a chest X-ray.
But consider this: Every day, all day long, we’re bathed in low levels of radiation — cosmic rays from outer space, radon in our houses, uranium deposits in the soil, radio signals from every AM and FM station in range, airport full-body scanners, dental X-rays, cellphones, even tiny hints lingering from the A-bomb tests of the 1940s and ‘50s.
And remember that radiation is cumulative. Most scientists agree there’s no such thing as a harmless dose.
Now relax. It’s less scary than it sounds.
With the recent problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, caused by the Tohoku earthquake and consequent tsunami on March 11, attention has been drawn to how radiation can be dangerous to our health. But radiation isn’t all bad; it’s often used to improve our quality of life, from medical diagnostic tools to smoke detectors and much more, such as supplying power to techniques used in science laboratories.
Even if we wanted to, it’s impossible to completely avoid radiation, as we’re constantly exposed to it all around us. Since we evolved with constant exposure to background levels of radiation, our bodies know how to repair damage from it. But exposure to high levels can put a person’s health at risk. To decrease such risks, officials set standards for “safe” levels of radiation exposure based on studies of how different levels affect the human body.