By Johnny Jackson
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently designated the month of January as National Radon Action Month.
The month, aimed at increasing public awareness of radon, represents a time when state radon programs conduct special radon outreach activities and events around the country.
Throughout the month, EPA will promote radon testing and mitigation, and advance the use of radon-resistant, new, construction practices.
In 2005, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona warned Americans about the risks of breathing indoor radon by issuing a national health advisory. The advisory urges Americans to prevent the silent radioactive gas from seeping into their homes, and building up to dangerous levels.
He issued the advisory during a two-day surgeon general's workshop on Healthy Indoor Environments.
"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 county," 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."
Radon is an invisible, odorless and tasteless gas, with no immediate health symptoms. It comes from the breakdown of uranium inside the earth.
Test kits can reveal the amount of radon in buildings. Those with high levels can be fixed with simple and affordable venting techniques.
However, millions of homes have an elevated radon level. EPA estimates one in every 15 homes nationwide have a high radon level, at or above, the recommended radon action level of 4 picoCuries (pCi/L) per liter of air.
More than 20,000 Americans die of radon-related lung cancer every year. For those who smoke, the risk of lung cancer is much higher as radon poisoning is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, behind smoking.
Residents should test their homes for radon every two years, and re-test any time they move, make structural changes to their homes, or occupy a previously unused level of a house. For radon levels of 4 pCi/L or higher, they should take steps to remedy the problem as soon as possible.
"Americans need to know about the risks of indoor radon and have the information and tools they need to take action," said Jeffrey Holmstead, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. "That's why EPA is actively promoting the Surgeon General's advice urging all Americans to get their homes tested for radon. If families do find elevated levels in their homes, they can take inexpensive steps that will reduce exposure to this risk."
Based on national averages, EPA expects that many of the homes owned, or financed by, federal government programs would have potentially elevated radon levels.
"The federal government has an opportunity to lead by example on this public health risk," added Edwin Piñero, executive in the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive (OFEE). "We can accomplish this by using the outreach and awareness avenues we have, such as EPA's web site, to share information and encourage action on radon, to reduce risks."
For more information, visit the EPA web site, or call 1-800-SOS-RADON (767-7236).
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