By Matt Grimley
2013 is beginning with an invisible, odorless bang. January is National Radon Awareness Month, designed to draw attention to radon as a serious public health issue and, more importantly, to motivate Americans to take action and protect themselves from radon’s harmful health effects.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and the number one cause among non-smokers. Radon causes more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. every year.
Radon is a naturally occurring, invisible, odorless radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. The gas is especially prevalent in Appalachia.
Western North Carolina tends to have elevated radon levels, according to Phillip Ray Gibson, the Western North Carolina radon program coordinator for the state health department. He commented that there are no reliable predictors of radon. “People simply need to test [their homes],” he urged, citing that tests are inexpensive. West Virginia and Kentucky state agencies offer free testing kits on an ongoing basis, and North Carolina’s radon program will be giving away free short-term test kits during the month of January. But everyone should check their local agencies for deals.
Gibson noted that “it is much cheaper to add radon resistant elements to new construction rather than retrofitting.” While a homeowner cannot know if radon gas is a problem until after construction is completed, the savings from designing proactively greatly outweigh the costs of post-construction renovation. New developers should consider building “Radon Resistant New Construction” to protect their buildings, Gibson suggests.
New homes and older homes can have elevated radon levels. Hotspots for entry include basements, first-floor rooms and garages, but radon can be found anywhere in a home.
There are many testing options. Easy-to-use test kits can usually be found at hardware stores for a low price, and more information on obtaining test kits and test coupons is available at sosradon.org. Find a local radon program online at epa.gov/iag/whereyoulive.html or by calling 1-800-SOS-RADON.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is accepting submissions for its annual Reed Environmental Writing Award for writers who “most effectively raise awareness of the value and vulnerability of the South’s natural heritage through environmental stories.” The contest has two award categories, non-fiction books and journalism. All submissions must have been published during the 2012 calendar year and should relate to the natural environment in at least one of the following states: Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, or Virginia. Contest judges include Grammy-nominated poet Nikki Giovanni and Bill McKibben of 350.org. The two category winners will receive $1,000 each, and will be announced during the Virginia Festival of the Book in March. Submissions must be postmarked by Jan. 2, 2013. For complete submission guidelines, visit southernenvironment.org/phil_reed.