Friday, November 07, 2008
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IEMA marks Lung Cancer Awareness Month

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[November 07, 2008]  SPRINGFIELD -- Each year, it is estimated that more than 1,100 Illinois residents die from lung cancer caused by radon gas. During national Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency is urging everyone to protect themselves from this health hazard by testing their homes for radon gas and by taking actions to reduce high levels of cancer-causing radon.

"In our ongoing studies of radon in Illinois, it's obvious that high levels of this radioactive gas can be found in every region of the state," said IEMA Director Andrew Velasquez III. "The good news is that radon exposure can be easily reduced. But the only way you'll know if your home has elevated levels of this cancer-causing gas is by testing. I encourage everyone in Illinois to take a few moments during November to test their homes for radon."

Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the decay of naturally occurring uranium in the soil. It can enter homes and buildings through small cracks in the foundation, sump pumps or soil in crawl spaces. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the nation and the leading cause of lung cancer for nonsmokers. The National Academy of Sciences and the surgeon general estimate that 21,000 radon-related lung cancer deaths occur annually in the United States, more than 1,100 of those in Illinois.

Gloria Linnertz of Waterloo lost her husband, Joe, to lung cancer nearly three years ago. He hadn't smoked for 27 years, but his doctor told the couple that smoking and exposure to radon are two known causes of lung cancer. Soon after Joe's death, his wife tested her home of 18 years and found that it had radon levels of 17.6 picocuries per liter of air, more than four times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-recommended action level of 4 picocuries per liter. Linnertz had a radon mitigation system installed in her home, and the home now tests at 1.1 picocuries per liter.


"If we had just known about this silent killer and how easy it is to test and mitigate, we would have done it much sooner," said Linnertz. "Only a test can determine if you are living in a high-level radon environment, and I urge everyone to do this simple test that could save you or your loved ones from this devastating disease."

Since her husband's death in 2006, Linnertz has dedicated her life to promoting radon education and reform and regularly speaks around the country about radon's serious health effects.

Fortunately for Barbara Sorgatz of Glen Ellyn, her lung cancer was detected early by a CT scan following a gallbladder attack. As a lifelong nonsmoker, Sorgatz was puzzled by her lung cancer diagnosis, and through research on the Internet she discovered that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in healthy people who have never smoked.

"When I tested my home for radon, I was surprised to learn the levels were five times the recommended USEPA levels," Sorgatz said. "I subsequently hired a licensed contractor to install a radon mitigation system that lowered the radon levels in my house to well below the USEPA action level."

In September 2006, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency released a report showing that nearly half of 22,000 Illinois homes tested by professional radon measurement contractors had potentially unsafe levels of radon. Test results from those homes showed radon levels at or above the action level of 4 picocuries per liter.

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"On average, we spend about 87 percent of our time in our homes, so it's important that we're aware of the dangers of radon," said Harold Wimmer, CEO of the American Lung Association Upper Midwest. "Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers, and the USEPA estimates that about a quarter of all radon-related lung cancers could be averted by lowering radon levels in homes to below 4 picocuries per liter of air."

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency is working to increase the number of home radon tests conducted throughout the state and since early 2006 has made free radon test kits available to Illinois residents. To date, more than 100,000 test kits have been distributed. Results from those tests are being recorded and analyzed for an updated report on radon occurrence throughout the state.

IEMA encourages anyone who discovers their home has elevated levels of radon to contact a licensed radon mitigation professional to correct the problem. As with radon measurement professionals, mitigation experts in Illinois are licensed by the agency to ensure they have the proper equipment, specialized training and technical skills to do the job right and reduce radon in the home to safe levels. Depending on the home, radon mitigation can cost $800-$1,200.

More information about radon, results from the statewide study, lists of licensed radon measurement and mitigation professionals, and requests for free home test kits are available at Radon information and free home test kits are also available by calling 1-800-325-1245.

[Text from Illinois Emergency Management Agency file received from the Illinois Office of Communication and Information]


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