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University of Iowa News Release

 

Jan. 8, 2009

Radon expert urges testing during National Radon Action Month

January is National Radon Action Month, which serves as a good reminder for homeowners to test for radon, according to a University of Iowa expert in radon research.

Radon is a potent, environmental carcinogen that is prevalent in Iowa and many areas of the United States, said R. William Field, professor of occupational and environmental health and epidemiology in the UI College of Public Health.

Radon is found in the soil and rock beneath homes, groundwater and occasionally in building materials. It is created by the natural radioactive decay of uranium in the soil and penetrates through the ground as a gas that gets trapped inside homes.

"People need to be reminded of the presence of radon, both because of the potential for dire health consequences related to radon exposure and because there are no sensory reminders to make people aware of its presence," Field said.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer and the primary cause of lung cancer for non-smokers, and it is responsible for approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States.

In December, Field testified before the President's Cancer Panel regarding environmental factors in cancer. There, he pointed out his concerns about the country's ever-increasing exposure to radon because builders choose to build homes without radon resistant features faster than existing homes are mitigated to reduce radon.

"Sadly, more people are exposed to radon than ever before," Field said. He pointed out that over the last 50 years, more than a million people in the United States have died from radon-related lung cancer.

Due to Iowa's unique geologic make-up, Iowa has the highest average radon concentrations in the country. The EPA's "Map of Radon Zones" indicates every county in Iowa is a "Zone 1" for radon potential, meaning the radon content is greater than 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air, the EPA's action level. In about 10 to 15 percent of the homes in the state, radon concentrations exceed 10 pCi/L.

There are many low-cost, radon-test kits available through the mail or at local hardware stores. The EPA recommends homeowners take measures to reduce the radon concentrations if tests indicate 4 pCi/L or greater of radon. Radon reduction systems are available that can reduce concentrations by as much as 99 percent.

"Every home should be tested because one home could have a low reading and their next door neighbor could have a very high reading. The only way to know is to test," Field said.

Residents can obtain information on radon testing or mitigation by calling the Iowa Radon Hotline at 800-383-5992. Radon test kits can also be ordered at reduced costs from the Iowa Air Coalition by calling 800-206-7818.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications and External Relations, 4257 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242

MEDIA CONTACT: Hannah Fletcher, 319-384-4277, hannah-fletcher@uiowa.edu