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Radon: What you don’t know could hurt you

Posted 1/4/2010

Although many people are aware that smoking causes lung cancer, hardly anyone seems to know that breathing the air in their home can also cause lung cancer. In fact, radon gas in buildings is the leading cause of lung cancer for nonsmokers, killing more people than secondhand smoke, drunken driving, falls in the home, drowning or home fires.

In an effort to educate people about indoor radon exposure, January has been proclaimed as National Radon Action Month, and state radon programs are taking steps to make this health risk known and to encourage people to have their homes tested. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Radon Education Program and the Nevada State Health Division urge all Nevadans to get their homes tested for radon, and, in recognition of Radon Action Month, they are offering free radon test kits at program presentations being offered statewide throughout the month.

In Reno, five programs are being offered in conjunction with Washoe County libraries:

  • Saturday, Jan. 9, at 11 a.m., Sierra View Library, 4001 S. Virginia St.
  • Saturday, Jan. 9, at 3 p.m., South Valleys Library, 15650 Wedge Pkwy.
  • Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 6 p.m., Incline Village Library, 845 Alder Ave.
  • Thursday, Jan. 21, 4 p.m., Spanish Springs Library, 7100A Pyramid Hwy.
  • Saturday, Jan. 23, at noon, North Valleys Library, 1075 North Hills Blvd.

Cooperative Extension has also produced a short video explaining to people just how simple it is to have their homes tested for radon.

In addition to program presentations, UNCE plans to have displays in area facilities, request governmental proclamations, send out newsletters, as well as other activities to alert Nevadans about the radon health risk. Attendees who arrive early at the Summit Sierra and the Sparks 14 movie theaters through Jan. 22 will see a 30-second EPA radon public service announcement during the preshow. In addition, Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Pioneer Crossing Casino in Fernley and the Red Lion Hotel and Casino in Elko have offered to display radon information on their marquees during the month of January. Some area residents may also receive notices on their front door with a free test kit coupon and information about radon in new efforts to inform area homeowners.

Radon comes from the natural decay of uranium and is found in soil, rocks and water. While radon can enter the home through the use of groundwater, it is typically not the major source of radon concentrations in a home. The major source of radon 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. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates 21,000 Americans die each year from lung cancer caused by indoor radon exposure.

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, in past radon surveys, 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. 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.

Recognizing the health risk and the fact that winter is the best time to test your home for radon, Gov. Jim Gibbons has also declared January as National Radon Action Month.

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension offers radon test kits at most Cooperative Extension offices across the state. Some counties offer free test kits as a service to their residents, paid for by the Cooperative Extension office in those counties. To find out where to get a test kit or for more information, go to the Nevada Radon Education Program Web site, www.unce.unr.edu/radon, or call University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, 888-RADON10 (888-723-6610). For a nominal shipping fee, you can also receive a test kit by mail. For additional information on radon, contact the Nevada State Health Division, (775) 687-7531 or (775) 687-7536.

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