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Nevada Radon Education Program

Nevada Radon Education Program

The Nevada Radon Education Program (NREP), supported by the EPA and Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health, was instituted in 2007 to educate the citizens of Nevada about the radon health risk. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) offers literature, educational programs and radon test kits in many county Extension offices.

Issue:

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that has no odor, color or taste and is produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. Uranium is found in all soils and in higher concentrations in granite, shale and phosphates. As it decays into radon gas, it moves through the soil into the atmosphere, where it is harmlessly dispersed in outdoor air or can enter buildings through foundation openings and become trapped inside. When it enters a building, it can accumulate and present a health concern for occupants. Buildings other than homes can also have radon concerns (such as commercial buildings, schools, apartments, etc.).

Radon breaks down into several radioactive elements called radon decay products, which are solid particles that become suspended in air. They are extremely small and easily inhaled, where they can attach to lung tissue. Not everyone exposed to radon will get lung cancer, but the greater the amount of radon and the longer the exposure, the greater the risk of developing lung cancer. Radon is classified as a Group A carcinogen, a substance known to cause cancer in humans. Next to smoking, scientists believe that radon is associated with more lung cancer deaths than any other carcinogen.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Lung Association (ALA), the U.S. Surgeon General, and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) - in addition to many other health organizations - all agree that radon is a health concern that must be addressed. The U.S. Surgeon General, Richard Carmona, issued a national Health Advisory in 2005 warning Americans about the health risk from exposure to radon in indoor air. The nation's chief physician urged Americans to test their homes to find out how much radon they might be breathing.

"Indoor radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the country," Dr. Carmona said. "It's important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques."

Dr. Carmona noted that more than 20,000 Americans die of radon-related lung cancer each year.

The Radon Health Risk

Graph of Radon Health Risk

Radon is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year,
according to EPA's 2003 Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes
(EPA 402-R-03-003). The numbers of deaths from other causes —
Home Fires (2,800), Secondhand Smoke (3,000), Drownings (3,900),
Falls in the Home (8,000), Drunken Driving (17,400) — are taken from
the Centers for Control and Prevention's 1999-2001 National Center for
Injury Prevention and Control Report and 2002 National Safety Council
Reports and EPA Health Effects of Exposure to Secondhand Smoke.

Source: U.S. EPA publication 402-K-07-009, A Citizen's Guide to Radon

According to EPA estimates, exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year, more than drunk driving, household falls, drowning, or home fires.

Lung cancer is the only health effect which has been definitively linked with radon exposure. There is no evidence that other respiratory diseases, such as asthma, are caused by radon exposure and there are no immediate symptoms from exposure to radon. Smokers are at higher risk of developing radon-induced lung cancer.

However, as with those who smoke, not everyone exposed to high levels of radon will develop lung cancer, and the time between exposure and the onset of cancer may be many (5-25) years.

For more information:

Risk Factors to Consider

Your individual living patterns could influence your assessment of your personal risk. Your answers to the following questions may help you evaluate your personal risk.

  • Does anyone smoke in your home?
    Scientific evidence indicates that smoking combined with radon is a very serious health risk. If a person smokes and is exposed to radon, the risk of lung cancer is much greater than radon exposure alone as described in the risk assessment chart below.
Radon Level a Lifetime Risk of Lung Cancer Death (per person) from Radon Exposure in Homes b
pCi/l Never Smokers Current Smokers c General Population
20 36 out of 1,000 26 out of 100 11 out of 100
10 18 out of 1,000 15 out of 100 56 out of 1,000
8 15 out of 1,000 12 out of 100 45 out of 1,000
4 73 out of 10,000 62 out of 1,000 23 out of 1,000
2 37 out of 10,000 32 out of 1,000 12 out of 1,000
1.25 23 out of 10,000 20 out of 1,000 73 out of 10,000
0.4 73 out of 100,000 64 out of 10,000 23 out of 10,000
a  Assumes constant lifetime exposure in homes at these levels.
b  Estimates are subject to uncertainties as discussed in Chapter VIII of the risk assessment.
c  Note:  BEIR VI did not specify excess relative risks for current smokers.

Source: www.epa.gov/radon/risk_assessment.html

  • Do you have children living at home?
    Young children's lungs are smaller and their respiratory rates are twice as high as adults. They may also spend more time inside the house. Combined with their respiratory rate and length of exposure to elevated radon levels means children are exposed to the radon health risk at a much higher rate than adults.

How to Find Out If You Have a Radon Problem

Since you can't see or smell radon, special equipment is needed to detect its presence. Test kits are commercially available, relatively inexpensive and easy to use. They can be purchased and used by the homeowner without outside assistance. Other types of test equipment are more technical and expensive and must be used only by specially trained people. To obtain a low-cost test kit, visit any University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office listed below or call 1-888-RADON10 (888-723-6610).

This website was supported by the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health through Grant Number K1-96963514-0 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not represent the official views of the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health nor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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