What is the big deal about radon?
One of the key issues is that the No. 2 cause of lung cancer, easily identified through a simple test you can do yourself.
Radon is a natural decay product from granite rock (prevalent in our soil) and it is fairly easy to correct.
Since starting radon-awareness classes six years ago, I continue to work toward the goal that every home in this region be tested. Death from lung cancer in our community is greater than all other forms of cancer combined.
Of screenings completed over the last six years in this area, two of every three tests have warranted further action. San Juan Basin Health Department and Colorado State University Extension have been able to offer the classes and free screening kits as a result of a grant from EPA.
The EPA standard is 4 picoCuries per liter, or pCi/L, of radon for a home warrants action. That action could be a second test (and averaging the numbers) or to proceed with mitigation to correct the problem. The average level of radon results are averaging in the 25 pCi/l. There are areas in the community that seem to run higher numbers. But we are finding elevated numbers throughout the county, as well as low levels throughout the county. The only way to know is to do the test, regardless of where your home is located.
Breathing radon gas over time is, without question, the No. 2 cause of lung cancer locally and nationally. More importantly, it is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. Yes, even more than secondhand smoke.
To understand why this is a significant health issue, let’s start from the beginning.
Radon is a gas found in our soils that results from naturally occurring granite and uranium in our soil. We have high levels in this area, as well as around the state and nationally. This is not a problem unique to Pagosa Springs area.
As a gas, radon travels underground and, during this time of year, it stays under the snow until the negative pressure created by a residence sucks the radon into the home. Winter is the recommended time of year to get the most accurate reading.
Over time, radon is inhaled by residents of the home. Radon, a very active atom, attacks lung tissue cells. Sometimes it kills the cell, other times it might injure a specific area of the cell. When radon attacks a particular area of the DNA helix, a mutation occurs. Each time the cell divides, the number of mutated cells doubles. Over several years, this results in cancer in the lung.
The process is not short-term. It takes several years to create the amount of mutations that result in cancer. However, if one inhales smoke or has a history as a miner as well, the damage to the lung is more significant and more rapid.
Radon is a class A carcinogen — known and preventable. Start by attending a class that speaks to the issue of radon in our community, take the test and proceed from there.
If your home has a mitigation system in place, test every other year (with the system turned on); if not, test every five years.
My advice: Take the test.
The class will be offered Jan. 12 at 4 p.m. at the Extension Building, 344 U.S. 84. CSU Extension will present information, a question-and-answer session and free radon screening tests.
Dec. 15 — Colorado avalanche information, 7 p.m.
Dec. 16 — Archuleta County Christmas Potluck, 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 19 — Painting Group, 10 a.m.
Dec. 16 — Office closed.
Check out our webpage at www.archuleta.colostate.edu for calendar events and information.