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NATIONAL RADON ACTION WEEK
OCTOBER 18-24

National Radon Action Week (NRAW) began in 1990 as a Congressional Resolution and has since taken the form of a presidential message from the White House asking Americans to take preventative action on this health risk. The purpose of the week is to draw attention to radon as a serious public health issue and, more importantly, to motivate Americans to take action to protect themselves from radon health effects. This week has traditionally been highlighted by media and event blitzes that feature specific high-profile activities such as radon testing of celebrity homes, community radon test challenges, and retailer promotions, to name a few. A common myth about NRAW is that all state and local radon activities should take place during this particular week. In fact, NRAW is simply the kickoff week of an entire year of activities designed to increase awareness of radon's serious health effects, encourage Americans to take action on radon in their homes, and ultimately reduce health risks posed to Americans by radon.

What is This Year's Theme?

This year's theme is Take The Test, which matches the upcoming wave of PSAs. The PSAs follow a testing format where true-false questions about radon are posed to viewers. The activities we all conduct this year should stress the importance of testing America's homes for radon. To the extent possible, it might also be fun to tie activities specifically into a test or quiz theme. For instance, communities could challenge each other to a radon test competition; i.e. complete to find out which community can have the most citizens pass the radon test. Or an expanded radon test or quiz could be posted on the Internet as a game.

Regardless of which activities your organization considers, do not be limited by the theme! If you can not think of something feasible that fits a test format, perhaps just use similar colors or styles in the printed portions of your activities so as to tie into the PSAs. Remember, it is not the theme or look that is the most important thing about your NRAW activity -- what is important is to roll up our sleeves this year, think creatively, and take some real action!! National Radon Action Week is about just that: getting into our communities, connecting with local media, businesses, and civic groups, and conducting activities that will make real progress toward reducing radon risks in American homes.

For more information, contact a specialist at (800) 557-2366.From the Environmental Health Center, A Division of the National Safety Council, 1025 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 1200, Washington, DC 20036Phone; (202) 293-2270 Fax; (202) 293-0032


Radon: The Deadly Legacy of Uranium

It's colourless, odourless and seeps into your home from the surrounding soil. It offers no warning signs to alert you to exposure. With every breath you take, you could be subjecting yourself to a radioactive gas called radon.

Radon, one of the most potent carcinogens known, is highly associated with lung cancer, which is a leading cause of death in Canada. Many Canadian homes contain dangerous levels of radon. So what is this dangerous substance?

Radon is a radioactive gas composed from the natural breakdown (radioactive decay) of uranium. It can be found in nearly all soils with high concentrations where soil and rocks contain uranium, granite, shale or phosphate. It may also be found in soils contaminated with certain types of industrial waste such as the by-products of uranium or phosphate mining. There are only two commercially important uses for uranium: nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors. Canada is the world's largest uranium producer and exporter.

According to Health Canada, in the open air radon gas is so diluted that it's not a problem. But in confined spaces (such as a home) where it can concentrate in high levels, it increases the risk of developing lung cancer.

As radon decays, it produces decay products called radon daughters or radon progeny. These emit particles known as alpha particles. When alpha particles hit something, the energy in them is absorbed on the surface of whatever they hit. Human skin is thick enough not to be affected, but bronchial and lung tissue are not. These particles are inhaled and become lodged in the lungs. Once lodged, they can radiate and penetrate lung tissue, initiating the process of carcinogenesis.

For smokers, the news is even worse. Smoking increases the risk of exposure to radon. When tobacco crops are fertilized, radon gas collects under the thick canopy of tobacco leaves, and tiny dust particles impregnated with radon daughters cling to the sticky, resinous hairs on the underside of each leaf. When harvested, the tobacco contains high concentrations of radioactive lead-210 and polonium-210. With every inhalation, cigarette smokers breathe these radon daughters into their lungs.

How It Gets Into Your Home

Many homes in Canada were built using the sand-like uranium tailings (pulverized rock) as construction material. These tailings contain 85 percent of the original radioactivity. As a result, some homes contain levels of radon gas and radon daughters even higher than those permitted in the mines. Health Canada warns that factors such as the location of a house and its relation to the prevailing wind may be just as important as the source of the radon.

However, radon can be a problem in homes of all types. It maneuvers through small spaces in the soil and rock on which a house is built. It seeps through dirt floors, solid floors, gaps in suspended floors, gaps around service pipes, cracks in concrete walls, sumps, joints, basement drains, under the furnace base and jack posts if the base is submerged in the floor. It also permeates the water supply; radon trapped in well water is released into the air when water is used. Radon levels are generally highest in basements and ground floor rooms in contact with the soil.

Fortunately, there are solutions to radon problems in the home. The first step in dealing with a radon problem is detecting it.

Home Testing

There are several ways to gauge radon. Radon detectors such as charcoal canisters, electret ion detectors and alpha track detectors are available at hardware stores, health departments or the Lung Association. These devices are exposed to the air in a house for an indicated period of time (a few days to several months). After testing is completed, the kit is returned to the manufacturer for analysis.

Testing should be conducted with the doors and windows closed, during the cooler months. The test kit should be placed in the lowest lived-in level of the house. It should be placed away from drafts, high heat, high humidity and exterior walls. Professionals can also perform the necessary tests, but they're usually more expensive than do-it-yourself home detectors which cost from $20 to $40.

How Much is Too Much?

There's no such thing as a “safe dose” of radiation. Health Canada recommends a guideline of 800 becquerels (the number of radioactive decays per second) per cubic metre as the annual average concentration in a normal living area. Factors such as design, construction and ventilation of the home affect the pathways and forces which can draw radon indoors. Radon levels are highest in winter when homes are closed up for several months.

How To Reduce Radon Levels

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), high levels of radon can be solved at a price comparable to having a hot water heater installed or the house painted.

Renovations to existing basement floors, particularly earth floors, sealing cracks and openings and sub-floor ventilation of basement floors can prevent admission. Levels of radon three feet below the ground level can be as much as one hundred to three hundred percent higher than the levels inside a basement, so it's extremely important to ensure that all cracks are filled.

Ventilate the soil surrounding the home so that radon is drawn away before it can enter. This method is called soil depressurization. This system can be installed in an existing home, or installed during construction of a new home.

Increasing the ventilation within your home will also help. If radon gas is trapped in a building with poor ventilation, it remains for its life span (3.8 days half life). Without regular air exchange, the levels of radon could become elevated.

When radon testing indicates high levels, a trained radon reduction contractor should be consulted to correct the problem.

Radon: The Deadly Legacy of Uranium, Written by: Joyce Rattray


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