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Radon: Could a Silent Killer be Lurking?

Radon: Could a Silent Killer be Lurking?

Kaye Ranger-Lefler was in perfect health until last fall, when episodes of lower back pain began regularly striking her a few hours after mealtime.

The pain became so intense the 65-year-old Sioux City woman could hardly eat. She lost weight and struggled to fall asleep while sitting up. It hurt too much to lie down in her bed.

When Ranger-Lefler was finally diagnosed with Stage Four lung cancer, over four months after her pain began, she was in shock.

How could a woman who had never smoked develop lung cancer?

A radioactive gas known as radon could be the answer.

Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking and the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that radon exposure causes 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year in the United States. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked.

Silent Killer: The Risk of Radon in Siouxland Homes

SIOUX CITY | A silent killer was in Frank and Diane Gruber's Morningside home.

They didn't know it until the house was tested for radon -- a colorless, odorless gas produced by the decay of uranium. It occurs naturally in soils, rock and water.

When radon enters buildings through foundation or basement cracks, it becomes trapped and accumulates in the lowest level, usually basements. Breathing in the radioactive gas at high levels over a long period can cause lung cancer.

The radon concentration in the Grubers' home was as high as 16 pCi/L, or picocuries per liter -- four times the level at which the Environmental Protection Agency recommends corrective action be taken. After testing with a digital radon detector, the Grubers installed a radon mitigation system, which removes the gas.

More Siouxland homeowners are testing for radon, said Michelle Clausen Rosendahl, director of Environmental Services for the Siouxland District Health Department.