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Knowledge is power when it comes to lung cancer and radioactive radon gas exposure.

In a recent national survey of 2,000 people, commissioned by the Lung Cancer Action Network, 88 percent of the respondents didn’t know that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. Most people are not aware that this invisible gas can seep into any type of structure — brick, frame, basement, no basement, slab on grade, crawl space, old or new. Awareness is needed especially relating to testing for radon and mitigating if the radon level is high.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends seriously considering mitigation if the level is between 2 and 4 picocuries (pCi/L) and certainly if the level is higher. The action level used in the U.S. is 4 pCi/L, but that figure was not based on health safety. The World Health Organization has 2.7 pCi/L as its reference level.

In all actuality, there is no safe level of radon exposure.

Misconceptions about the effect of radon exposure are common. Numerous studies throughout the U.S. and world have verified that exposure to radon increases the chance of lung cancer. The EPA and other agencies and organizations estimate that 21,000 individuals lose their life to radon exposure annually.

Early detection and prevention can be more powerful in saving lives from lung cancer than chemo, radiation and medication. Of course, one method of prevention is to test the structures that are occupied such as homes, schools, and workplaces for radon gas. With the advent of new and easy-to-use measurement devices such as the Wave Smart Radon Detector and the Radon Gas Monitor by Airthings, the user can be informed on a daily basis and instantly of the radon level in the structure — much like a smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector.

Early detection can happen with a low dose CT scan for people at high risk of getting lung cancer. Research has shown that us these scans to screen people at higher risk of lung cancer saves more lives compared to chest X-rays. Only about 16 percent of lung cancer patients are diagnosed at an early stage, according to the American Lung Association. Exposure to 20 pCi/L of radon gas is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, according to EPA.

Most people don’t think of testing for radon in the home until it comes time to sell. The Radon Awareness Act in Illinois and Minnesota has made a difference and increased the number of homebuyers testing for radon at the time of sale. The 2017 U.S. Census Bureau indicates the existence of about 126.22 million households.

Some statistical analysis show about 6 million homes (new and existing) were sold in 2017; therefore probably tens of millions of homeowners and tenants never think about testing their residences for this silent killer.

Some actions to help reduce lung cancer are getting lending institutions to demand radon testing for home loans and insurance companies to require radon testing before issuing life insurance policies. Requiring radon testing for rental properties and awareness laws would help provide a safer indoor air quality for tenants. Most individuals pay attention to their physicians, so providing the access of “Reducing the Risk form Radon: Information and Interventions A Guide for Health Care Providers” to family physicians, pediatric doctors, nurses, cancer centers, and other health care providers will help increase the knowledge of the danger of radon exposure in both the patients and the medical community. Increased research is providing hope and a longer life for lung cancer patients and the future is filled with new treatments and knowledge. Getting lung cancer out in the open (if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer) is changing the perception of the general public. Surviving patients are replacing fear with investigation, participation, and activism.

With early detection, prevention, and research, perhaps one day in the future, lung cancer won’t be the greatest cancer killer of both men and women.

The best day to test your home for radon is today.

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Gloria Linnertz, of Waterloo, is the president and founder of Citizens for Radon Reduction.


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