January is National Radon Action Month, as declared by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Seventy-five percent of our community has not yet tested for radon, so the urgency remains. Those who have tested their home for radon, thank you.
Residents (renters and owners) are urged to test their home every five years. A screening takes only three days. Since last January, numerous people in our community have died because of lung cancer. So preventable, such a loss.
Long-term exposure to radon (a class A carcinogen, or one known to cause cancer) is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and the second-leading cause of lung cancer overall. The risk to smokers increases significantly when living in a high-radon environment such as our area.
Prolonged exposure to radon is responsible for 350 to 1,400 deaths in this state annually. For some perspective: Bayfield reported a population of 2,333 for the 2010 census. There are regions in our community that have significantly higher-than-acceptable radon levels, and many homes in those regions that have not tested. Two of every three homes tested last year had levels ranging from 1 to 315 picocuries per liter of air. Mitigation is recommended at 4 pCi/L.
Last June, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment conducted a health survey, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, by landline around the state. It found that in this four-county region, 75 percent reported radon knowledge but only 23 percent tested. The younger the population, the less was known about radon. More than half of 18- to 39-year-olds knew nothing about radon.
For those who smoke cigarettes and live in homes with elevated radon, the risk of developing lung cancer increases more than 12-fold. Because the population of 18- to 39-year-olds smoke more than other age groups, this puts them at high health risk with less knowledge of what they are exposing themselves to.
The study also found that 58 percent of Hispanics knew nothing about radon, and the lower the income level and level of education, the less was known about radon.
Radon has always been a natural part of our environment, particularly in this area. Decay of uranium found in soil granite produces radon. The geology, construction materials and structure of homes are individual factors.
Exposure is easily controlled. Start with a simple test.
If you are building a new home or an addition onto your existing home, investigate radon-resistant construction techniques. If one uses this, prevention is significantly less expensive, more effective and more easily hidden using some simple techniques. Be sure to talk with your contractor (or give me a call) if you have questions. After your construction is completed, test again.
To help people better understand and appreciate radon, we have scheduled several community meetings to discuss radon (new construction as well as existing) and recommended actions that can be taken. We will provide information and screening kits to participants at no charge. The results of your test are confidential. Know your numbers.
For information about the schedule and locations for these meetings, contact me (382-6461) or Marian Schaub (247-5402, ext. 223).
email@example.com or 247-4355. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.