Radon gas is silent but deadly killer

Published on Thu, Nov 15, 2007 by Gloria Linnertz

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Radon gas is silent but deadly killer

By Gloria Linnertz

November is not my favorite month. So many times in November my husband, Joe, and I had to put on our badge of courage and faith to make it through difficult situations.

It was November 2, 1979, that Joe had his first triple bypass surgery. On the night of November 30, 1992, Joe passed out in the shower after returning home from work. We discovered in the hospital that he had lost over half of his blood from taking aspirin as a blood thinner over the past 13 years. Twenty years after his first bypass, in November 11, 1999, Joe had his second surgery. Of course, we were so thankful to God that these serious conditions resulted in successful recovery. In spite and because of all of this, Joe remained an active person with dedicated exercise routines. He followed a low fat, low cholesterol diet, and of course quit smoking in 1979. He loved to tell jokes and make people laugh. He was my light and strength.

Ironically, it was November 2, 2005, when we found out that Joe’s liver enzymes were elevated. After many tests, we were devastated when told that Joe had lung cancer that had spread to his liver and lungs. How could this have happened? Where did it come from? We needed our badge of courage and faith more than ever this November. Joe’s oncologist said that the two major causes of lung cancer are smoking and radon. Joe had not smoked for 27 years.

One month after Joe passed, I found that we had been living with an invisible killer – radon. It is odorless and tasteless; it is a radioactive gas found everywhere worldwide; it cause lung cancer. Former smokers or current smokers are at a much greater risk of lung cancer when living with high levels of radon. Radon is fickle; your neighbor’s house may have a low level of radon, while your house may be high. Only a test can tell. If someone had just told us about the deadly power of radon and how easy it is to test and mitigate, we would have done so. Ignorance is certainly not bliss. So I decided I would dedicate myself to the cause of awareness.

With the strong support of my state representative Dan Reitz and information and support from organizations and individuals concerned about radon in Illinois and other states throughout the nation, the Illinois Legislature passed The Radon Awareness Act (HB1425). It requires a point of sale house buyer to be notified that the property may present exposure to dangerous levels of indoor radon gas that may place one at risk of developing radon-induced lung cancer.

A warning statement must be included, “Radon, a Class A human carcinogen, is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the second leading cause overall.” The seller must provide the buyer with any information on radon test results showing elevated levels of radon. A statement from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) must be included that strongly recommends that all homebuyers have an indoor radon test performed prior to purchase or taking occupancy and mitigation performed if high levels are found. A pamphlet entitled “Radon Testing Guidelines for Real Estate Transactions” prepared by IEMA must be given to the buyer by the seller.

I am very grateful for this law; however, more is needed. Mandatory testing of all homes before the sale is my goal. Schools, day care centers, and nursing homes also need required testing. The U.S. government has set the radon action level at 4.0 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L0).

November is National Lung Awareness Month, and I urge you to test your home for radon. Go to www.epa.gov/iaq/whereyoulive.html to find out how to get a free radon test kit from your state. Visit www.cansar.org to see other non-smokers affected by radon-induced lung cancer. Use this time to test and mitigate (that is, reduce to a safe level) if necessary. It may be the month to save your life and the lives of your family, friends, and neighbors. It will be a happier November for you and me.