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January is National Radon Action Month

Posted 12/18/2009

It has no smell or taste and you can’t see it, but this gas can accumulate to harmful levels when trapped indoors. If you haven’t tested your home for it, you could be exposing your family to a known carcinogen that can cause lung cancer over time.

Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is present in elevated concentrations in many homes and buildings, and is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers. Radon-induced lung cancer kills more people than secondhand smoke, drunken driving, falls in the home, drowning or home fires. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates 21,000 Americans die each year from lung cancer caused by indoor radon exposure. The American Lung Association, American Medical Association, American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control, National Cancer Institute, and the World Health Organization all recognize radon as a serious national health problem.

In efforts to educate people about indoor radon exposure, the EPA has proclaimed January as National Radon Action Month and state radon programs are making efforts to make this health risk known and to encourage people to take action by having their homes tested. Winter is an ideal time to test a home for radon. When a home is closed up during cooler weather months, radon concentrations increase.

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Radon Education Program (UNCE) and the Nevada State Health Division urge all Nevadans to get their homes tested for radon. In recognition of Radon Action Month, UNCE is offering free radon test kits at program presentations being offered statewide throughout the month. (See chart for programs being offered in your area.)

Radon comes from the natural decay of uranium and is found in soil, rocks and water. As radon decays into radioactive particles, they can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy. This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime.

The amount of time between exposure and the onset of the disease may be many years. Not everyone exposed to elevated levels of radon will develop lung cancer, but a smoker exposed to radon has an even greater risk of developing lung cancer. Your chances of getting lung cancer from radon depend mostly on how much radon is in your home, the amount of time you spend in your home and whether you are a smoker or have ever smoked.

Based on radon surveys completed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, an estimated one out of every 15 homes in the U.S. has radon levels at or above the EPA Action Level of 4 picoCuries per liter of air (pCi/l). In Nevada, one out of every five homes were determined to have elevated radon levels. However, as more homes have been tested through the Nevada Radon Education Program, the radon potential has increased in many areas compared to past radon surveys. With over 5,394 usable radon test results since September 2003, elevated radon levels have been found in one out of every four homes tested in Nevada. The highest radon potential is in Carson City, Douglas, Elko, Humboldt, Lander, Lincoln, Lyon, Mineral, Pershing, Washoe and White Pine counties. Sample sizes have been too small for Esmeralda, Eureka, and Storey counties to draw any conclusion about radon potential, but elevated radon levels have also been found in these counties.

The major source of radon concentrations in a home comes from the soil beneath a home, entering through foundation cracks, plumbing and utility openings and some of the porous materials used to construct foundations and floors. Radon can enter any home — old or new, well-sealed or drafty. Even homes with basements, slab on grade, crawl spaces or no visible foundation cracks are susceptible.

You can’t predict which homes will have high radon levels, as two neighboring homes can have very different radon levels. Variables that determine radon levels include how the home was constructed, lifestyle factors and the strength of the radon source beneath the house. The only way to know a building’s radon levels is to test. A simple three-day test can determine whether a home has elevated levels of radon. If high levels of radon are found, there is a fix for reducing radon levels.

UNCE offers radon test kits at most Cooperative Extension offices across the state. Free test kits currently are offered in Washoe, Douglas, Carson City/Storey, Southern Nye, Lincoln and Clark counties. Other counties offer test kits for $5. For more information or to find out where to get a test kit, visit the Nevada Radon Education Program Web site, www.unce.unr.edu/radon, or call the Radon Hot Line, 888-RADON10 (888-723-6610). For a nominal shipping fee, you can also receive a test kit by mail.

For more information, visit the Nevada Radon Education Program Web site, www.unce.unr.edu/radon, or call the Radon Hot Line, 888-RADON10 (888-723-6610). For additional information on radon, contact the Nevada State Health Division, (775) 687-7531or (775) 687-7536.

Sidebar 1: Program presentations being offered around the state

County Date Time Place Address City Contact Person
Lyon County 1/4 5:30 p.m. UNCE 504 S. Main St. Yerington Marcia Moffitt 775-463-6541
Northern Nye County 1/5 6:30 p.m. UNCE 475 St. Patrick St. Tonopah Amy Meier
775-482-5001
Clark County 1/8 11 a.m. Summerlin Library 1771 Inner Circle Dr. Las Vegas Laura Au-Yeung
702-257-5550
Washoe County 1/9 11 a.m. Sierra View Library 4001 S. Virginia St. Reno Megan Long
775-856-8408
Washoe County 1/9 3 p.m. South Valleys Library 15650 Wedge Pkwy. Reno Megan Long
775-856-8408
Douglas County 1/11 6:30 p.m. Sheridan Fire Station 980 Sheridan Ln. Gardnerville Steve Lewis
775-782-9960
Washoe County 1/12 6:00 p.m. Incline Village Library 845 Alder Ave. Incline Village Julie Bradt
775-832-4150
Carson City 1/13 6:30 p.m. Senior Center 911 Beverly Dr. Carson City Teri Spraggins 775-887-2252
Clark County 1/13 2 p.m. Rainbow Library 3150 Buffalo Dr. Las Vegas Laura Au-Yeung
702-257-5550
Douglas County 1/14 6:30 p.m. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency 128 Market St. Stateline Steve Lewis
775-782-9960
Lyon County 1/20 11:45 a.m. Brown Bag Luncheon Lyon County Library, 20 Nevin Way Yerington Marcia Moffitt 775-463-6541
Lyon County 1/20 5:30 p.m. Smith Valley Library 22 Day Ln. Smith Marcia Moffitt 775-463-6541
Mineral County 1/21 6:00 p.m. El Capitan Steak Room 540 F St. Hawthorne Ruby Ives
775-945-3444
Ext. 11
Washoe County 1/21 4:00 p.m. Spanish Springs Library 7100A Pyramid Hwy. Sparks Megan Long
775-856-8408
Clark County 1/21 6:30 p.m. Enterprise Library 25 E. Shelbourne Ave. Las Vegas Laura Au-Yeung
702-257-5550
Washoe County 1/23 Noon North Valleys Library 1075 North Hills Blvd. Reno Megan Long
775-856-8408
White Pine County 1/25 6:00 p.m. White Pine County Library 950 Campton St. Ely Pete Mangum
775-289-4459
Elko County 1/26 6:30 p.m. Great Basin College 1500 College Pkwy. Elko Jill Tingey
775-728-7291
Clark County 1/26 6:30 p.m. West Charleston Library 6301 W. Charleston Blvd. Las Vegas Laura Au-Yeung
702-257-5550
Humboldt County 1/27 6:30 p.m. UNCE 1085 Fairgrounds Rd. Winnemucca Connie Beck
775-624-6304
Pershing County 1/28 6:00 p.m. Pershing Community Center 820 Sixth St. Lovelock Steve Foster
775-273-2923
Churchill County 1/28 3:00 p.m. Multi-Purpose Building Churchill County Fairgrounds, 225 Sheckler Rd. Fallon Pat Whitten
775-423-5121
Clark County 1/28 7 p.m. Las Vegas Library 833 Las Vegas Blvd. North Las Vegas Laura Au-Yeung
702-257-5550
Churchill County 1/28 6:00 p.m. Multi-Purpose Building Churchill County Fairgrounds, 225 Sheckler Rd. Fallon Pat Whitten
775-423-5121
Clark County 2/3 6 p.m. Centennial Hills Library 6711 Buffalo Dr. Las Vegas Laura Au-Yeung
702-257-5550
Clark County 2/4 2 p.m. Rainbow Library 3150 Buffalo Dr. Las Vegas Laura Au-Yeung
702-257-5550
Clark County 2/17 6:30 p.m. Summerlin Library 1771 Inner Circle Dr. Las Vegas Laura Au-Yeung
702-257-5550

Sidebar 2: GIS statewide map based on data from September 2003 to June 30, 2009. For specific data in each county and zip code, see Nevada Test Results on the UNCE web site, www.unce.unr.edu/radon

Map of Nevada showing various radon levels.  See more at www.unce.unr.edu/radon

The Nevada Radon Education Program compiles short-term radon test results that were completed by Nevada homeowners from September 2003 to the present. The results have been compiled for each county by Zip Code and a corresponding geographical information systems (GIS) map based on Zip Codes has been designed. The map provides an indication of radon potential by Zip Code and is not intended as a guide to determine whether a radon test is needed, but rather an indication of the prevalence of elevated radon levels in a Zip Code area. The maps are not to be used in lieu of testing during real estate transactions, and should not be used to determine if individual homes in any given area need to be tested for radon. Nevada State Health Division recommends that all homes be tested for radon, regardless of geographic location or the zone designation of the county in which they are located. The maps are intended to be a starting point for characterizing radon potential.

Radon results are based on independently tested homes, not scientific sampling. When known, post-mitigation results are not included and include only valid test results. When more than one test is completed per home, an average is obtained, using results from the lowest level of the home tested.

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