Radon causes cancer: are you safe?

By Natalie Shultz

It has no color, no smell, no taste and no movement. It is a radioactive gas and it occurs from the breakdown of soil. It seeps into the cracks or holes in foundations of homes or buildings and gets trapped inside. It is called radon—a carcinogen that leads to approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year and about 2,900 of them are deaths of non-smokers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov/radon).


In 2004, Hillsborough County had the fifth highest lung cancer incidence rate in the state, according to the Florida Department of Health’s website.


Although Cigarettes are the no. 1 cause of lung cancer in smokers nationwide, radon is the origin of the disease in the non-smoking population, and is the second leading cause of lung cancer overall, according to EPA estimates.


The Surgeon General’s 2006-2007 Radon Warning Public Service Announcement Campaign created messages for radio, t.v., magazines and real estate. The newspaper version says, “Surgeon General’s Warning: Cigarette smoking causes lung cancer,” and below it, “Surgeon General’s Warning: Radon causes lung cancer. You should test your home.”


“Americans need to know about the risks of indoor radon and have the information and tools they need to take action. That’s why the 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,” Jeffrey R. Holmstead, Assistant Administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said in a 2005 Health and Human Services press release.

In Florida, one out of two homes has excessive amounts of radon, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Lutz homeowner Deborah Favata, 55, recently purchased a radon measurement and mitigation test kit for her home after her older sister, also a non-smoker and a homeowner in Lutz, was diagnosed with lung cancer in August.


“There is a lot of farm land out here in Lutz, so I can see how the radon levels would be increased by soil and fertilizer, but lung cancer isn’t something you think about when you don’t smoke,” Favata said. “It is scary to think that you and your family are being exposed to it on a daily basis and you don’t even realize it until someone close to you gets cancer.”


Radon reduction costs can vary by size and layout of the structure and the type of radon reduction methods needed, however, prices usually range from $800 to $2,500. Favata chose to purchase a do-it-yourself kit from the EPA, however, there are state certified and licensed companies that also perform the necessary tests.

Florida also instituted a mandatory radon testing program for many public facilities, such as public and private schools, state licensed day care centers, and 24 hour care facilities such as nursing homes and hospitals.

Sections 307 and 309 of the Indoor Radon Abatement Act of 1988 (IRAA) instructed the EPA to pinpoint sections of the country with a possibility of increased indoor radon levels. The Map of Radon Zones puts each of the 3,141 counties in the U.S. into one of three zones by radon potential. Five factors used to determine radon potential are indoor radon measurements, geology, aerial radioactivity, soil permeability and foundation type, according to the EPA.


Much of Florida falls under zone three, which is a low potential for radon exposure, however, parts such as Hillsborough County, neighboring Polk County and others, are classified in zone two, meaning a moderate potential for exposure exists.

The EPA says approximately one in 15 homes is estimated to have radon levels at or above the recommended 4 pCi/L EPA action level. Science researchers have predicted a potential decrease of two to four percent, or nearly 5,000 deaths from lung cancer, by keeping indoor radon levels below the EPA’s action level.

Radon resistant construction elements are also advised to keep radon levels to a minimum. More than five percent of new single family homes, duplexes and buildings in Hillsborough County, as well as many other counties across the state, will have a yearly radon average level above the EPA action level of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or more, as shown in the Radon Protection Maps from the Florida Department of Community Affairs (http://www.doh.state.fl.us/environment/community/radon/).


On Sept. 9-12, the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors Inc., a partnership focused on radiation protection (crcpd.org), and the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (aarst.org), held the CRCPD’s 17th National Radon Conference and the AARST’s International Radon Symposium. Radon professionals from throughout the U.S. met in Jacksonville to share information and strategize ways to increase action for radon risk reduction.


According to “National Radon Results” from1985 to 2003 published by Brian Gregory and Philip P. Jalbert of the EPA, the approximate reduction of risks after the use of correctly installed, operated and maintained radon mitigation systems in homes through 2003, the EPA predicts that about 650 lives with be saved from lung cancer each year. The EPA anticipates the number to increase even more as radon levels are further decreased in new and present homes.


“Our national goal for the program is to double the number of mitigations and homes built to be radon-resistant over the next five years,” Susie Shimeck, an EPA program analyst for the Indoor Environments Division said.



The EPA named January “National Radon Action Month” in efforts to raise awareness about the radon health risks, as well as to promote radon testing, mitigation and resistant new construction.


“The state of Florida has one of strongest programs in the country. It works hard to promote testing and radon-resistant new construction, and it certifies radon mitigators and testers for competency,” Shimeck said. “The accessibility of information to the public also gives you a sense of frequency of testing. You can type in your zip code on the state’s radon website and all the information is right there for you to see.”


For more information about radon, visit www.epa.gov/radon and http://www.doh.state.fl.us/environment/community/radon/.


12 Responses to “Radon causes cancer: are you safe?”

  1. usfadvancedreporting Says:

    A littlel long for a story on radon, which may not be that interesting to people, but it is very informative. I would narrow it down to the most important to make a more enjoyable read.

  2. Aaron Says:

    I am happy Florida has one of the best radon-resistant construction plans. I was getting scared 🙂

  3. usfadvancedreporting Says:

    Radon is a very important topic that is pushed under the rug a lot. I agree, its informative but lengthy

  4. usfadvancedreporting Says:

    Some style errors and a little long, with a lot of facts. I probably would’ve found more people to interview or cnter the story on the woman who’s sister had lung cancer.

  5. Priscilla Says:

    Excellent story. Great sources, research and very informative.

  6. usfadvancedreporting Says:

    I found your story interesting, the topic is something everyone should be aware of. I agree that you probably could have interviewed more people, but other then that I liked it.

  7. usfadvancedreporting Says:

    Great reporting, plenty of information. A little long, but it makes sure to inform the readers of the dangers of radon.

  8. RB Says:

    Aye, radon *is* one of those health risks that most people don’t know about it. Which is odd, because testing kits aren’t that expensive, and it’s not impossible to fix a radon problem. I guess if it came in a little white stick and people smoked it, we’d be up in arms…

  9. Doug Wall Says:

    We have performed thousands of radon tests in southwest Florida and found thousands of homes with elevated radon levels. The Florida Department of Health is conducting a study, funded by a United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant, to investigate the causes of elevated radon levels in mid and high-rise multi-family residences in Lee and Collier Counties. Seems a shame that Collier and Lee Counties are not required to test their schools for elevated radon levels like many other counties in Florida. FL DOH protects the public?

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