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Radon in the home could lead to lung cancer

Radon in the home could lead to lung cancer

by Fredalynn Mortera Hecita, KUAM News
Monday, August 15, 2005

The Surgeon General of the United States has issued a health advisory warning Americans about the health risk from exposure to radon in indoor air. Studies find direct evidence linking radon in homes to lung cancer. The World Health Organization says radon causes up to 15% of lung cancers worldwide. This represents about 21,000 people per year dying from lung cancer due to radon exposure in the United States.

In addition to many other health organizations; all agree that radon is a health concern that must be addressed. Guam Environmental Protection Agency environmentalist specialist II Steven Norby says radon is actually a radioactive gas that causes lung cancer. "It's colorless, odorless and tasteless so you don't really know it's there. And it is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States with smoking being the worst of all," he said.

Next to smoking, scientists believe that radon is associated with more lung cancer deaths than any other compound. Norby says radon gives off tiny radioactive particles that are drawn into the lungs. When inhaled, these radioactive particles can damage the cells that line the lung. "So what happens it gets logged in there this is the alpha particle and it can change the DNA and cause cancer," he said.

Norby says in the past radon was not a problem on Guam until air conditioning became prevalent in offices, schools and homes keeping windows closed and outside air from circulating for an extended period of time. "When radon is in enclosed area it starts to build up, it takes about 12 hours for radon to reach equilibrium and at that point it's reached its maximum level," he said.

Surveys conducted by the Guam EPA indicate that approximately 27% of the homes in Guam are in excess of the United States Environmental Protection Agency's action level of 4.0 picocuries per liter. Norby says the only way to tell if a home has elevated levels of radon is to have the house tested. After a home is tested the results are conducted on island at the Office of Guam EPA.

Results are available the same day a test is submitted back to Guam EPA. Test kits that have successfully passed the EPA radon measurement proficiency program are marked "Meets EPA requirements." In the event the test indicates high levels of radon, Guam EPA will provide a list of qualified contractors to mitigate and reduce radon levels in the home. "4 picocuries per liter is considered action level by USEPA so that means you have to do something, so 300 is extremely high," he said.

It's important to have your home tested for radon, studies show that long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer.

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