Groups Raising Radon Awareness

Posted by Samantha Powell on December 8th, 2013 |

News Headline:  Groups Raising Radon Awareness
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Statesman Journal
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West Salem parents anxiously awaiting the release of a report on a possible environmental cause for a string of childhood cancer cases there wonder — was radon responsible?

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency preliminary study, tentatively scheduled for release this week, will examine that theory, as well as looking at a long list of possible contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals.

One thing is sure: Whether it contributed to the cancer cases or not, radon is dangerous. And it’s widespread in Oregon, Salem, and especially West Salem.

“You can’t see it, smell it or taste it,” said Tiffany Belser of the American Lung Association. “That’s why we’re encouraging people to test their homes.”

Radon occurs naturally in the soil. When indoor levels get too high, it becomes hazardous.

The American Lung Association estimates that as many as one in 10 Oregon homes have high radon levels.

“The majority of ZIP codes in the Salem area are at least moderate to high in radon levels,” said Steve Tucker, president of Cascade Radon Inc., a radon remediation company. “West Salem definitely sticks out.”

Legislation passed in 2010 designated seven Oregon counties, including Polk County, as potentially high radon areas.

Since April 2011, the law has required new residences and publicly funded buildings in those counties to include radon mitigation components.

But Tucker said there are two problems with the law.

It doesn’t require contractors doing radon testing or remediation to have any special training.

“A plumber, painter, anybody and their aunt and uncle could do it,” he said.

And although the law says new houses must be built with radon remediation systems in place, it doesn’t require any testing or require the systems to be activated.

Homeowners think, “I’ve got these pieces of pipe in my house, therefore it’s doing something,” Tucker said. “But it’s there to activate should the house test high for radon.”

Salem-Keizer schools have been testing for radon since 2001, district spokesman Jay Remy said.

This year alone, the district tested at 12 elementary schools, five middle schools and two high schools.

That included all but one of West Salem’s eight schools. Brush College Elementary was tested in previous years.

Two lower-level classrooms at West Salem tested slightly higher than the 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) that the EPA says is potentially life-threatening. The district has worked to remediate problems in those rooms.

Meanwhile, the American Lung Association has decided to hold its annual radon awareness event in Salem next month.

“We want to bring awareness to radon,” Belser said. “We know it’s responsible for over 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States. It is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and the second-leading cause among smokers.”

Speakers will include experts from the American Lung Association, Portland State University, Salem Health, the Oregon Health Authority, Salem-Keizer School District and area radon mitigation companies.

“We’ll provide information, basic facts about health-related risks, and ways people can protect themselves,” Belser said. “We are encouraging people to test their homes and informing people what they can do if they have high levels of radon.”

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