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Radon Program: News: Radon Program Losing Funding
Orginally Published in the DEQ Environmental Connection Newsletter, July-August 2012
This article was written by Christine Keyser, the state indoor radon program coordinator
Federal budget cuts threaten to eliminate one of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality's most successful programs—The Utah Division of Radiation Control Indoor Radon Program.
For 20 years the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has provided the Division of Radiation Control (DRC) with an estimated $50,000 annual grant that partially funds the Indoor Radon Program. The result has been priceless—saving lives by helping hundreds of people with radon testing and education.
"This is a vital program that has had such tremendous benefits to the public," said Rusty Lundberg, director of DRC. "The Division feels that cutting funds to one of the most cost effective, results-oriented, radiation risk reduction programs, leaves the public less informed about a vital health issue. The ultimate question facing the program's future may be: Without the funding, what happens now?"
Christine Keyser, who has served as the state indoor radon program coordinator for four years, is concerned.
"It concerns me that anyone would choose to cut funds to a lifesaving program. The EPA is proposing to abolish the State Indoor Radon Grants based on the false assumption that states can carry on this vital program without federal funding. With limited outside resources to pay for this program, DRC faces a tough challenge to come up with the funding."
History of Saving Lives
The danger of high exposure to radon in mines was known back in the 1500s. Yet, the presence of radon in indoor air was not documented until 1950. Finally in 1970, research was initiated to address sources of indoor radon, determinants of concentration, health effects, and approaches to mitigation. In 1984, a widely publicized incident in Pennsylvania escalated the problem of indoor radon and investigation intensified, with the EPA taking a strong lead to educate states via its State Indoor Radon Grant (SIRG).
EPA's grant has been partially funding the Utah Division of Radiation Control's (DRC) Indoor Radon Program that enables the Division to respond to a continuous stream of public telephone and email inquiries, provide education to homeowners and professionals, conduct "target area" indoor radon assistance and surveys, and offer individualized assistance to homeowners and public agencies concerning all aspects of the indoor radon hazard problem.
"The Division's primary goal is to assure that radiation exposure to individuals is kept to the lowest practical level," said Lundberg. "A vital mechanism in reducing radiation exposure and potentially saving lives is our Indoor Radon Program."
Radiation risk to the American public from radon gas is undisputed. According to William Field (2011), radon is the leading environmental cause of cancer mortality in the United States and the seventh leading cause of cancer mortality overall. (Attribute) The Harvard School of Public Health, Center for Risk Analysis, has ranked radon as the highest of ten risks of death in homes in the United States, ahead of falls and home fires. (Attribute)
The Division's core objective is to improve air quality by reducing the level of indoor radon in the state of Utah to concentrations less than the Environmental Protection Agency's action level of 4 pCi/L (pico-Curies per liter). The Indoor Radon Program focuses its efforts on the following five areas:
- Radon Awareness, Testing, and Mitigation
- Radon Resistant New Construction (RRNC)
- Real Estate Disclosure and Testing
- Local Government Coalitions
- Public School Testing
To reach these goals and objectives, the State Radon Program Coordinator works closely with local health districts, education departments, hospitals, Realtors, builders, homeowners, media and policy makers.
"Radon awareness in Utah has grown steadily the past decade," said Keyser. "Already this year, we have seen the number of radon tests conducted in Utah triple from the previous year."
The programs growth and success is evidenced by the following measurements:
- Radon testing has increased. During the first three months of 2012, radon tests reached approximately 4,083. In comparison, tests total 4,236 in 2011 and only 900 in 2005.
- Installation of radon mitigation systems have increased. Homes mitigated in 2011 reached approx. 755, compared to 596 mitigations in 2010 and only 150 in 2005.
- Website visits have increased. Visits to the radon website reached 54,154 in 2011, approx. 20,000 more visits than previous years.
- Radon awareness has increased. Utah hosted its first annual EPA Region 8 Stakeholders Radon Meeting in April 2012. Radon CE courses have doubled for Realtors and home builders. All twelve local health districts have signed up to be more proactive in promoting radon awareness in all areas of the state.
- Government and community involvement has increased. Governor Herbert declared January 3-9, 2012 as "Radon Action Week." Habitat for Humanity in Utah County is currently using RRNC in every home it builds. The Huntsman Cancer Institute collaborated with the Division to study radon awareness in Utah and just recently published its findings. (Attribute) Several Utah lung cancer survivors have become strong advocates for radon testing. (Attribute) The mayor of Beaver City has instructed a local committee to fight radon, with the Division's assistance.
- More new homes are being built with Radon Resistant New Construction (RRNC). Approx. 200 homes were built with RRNC last year and the number continues to grow.
- More schools are being tested for radon. Canyons School District, Salt Lake County School District, and Tooele School District have done extensive testing the past two years.
"Although we are seeing significant progress, there is still so much more outreach that needs to be done," said Keyser. "The testing data indicate that approximately one-third of the homes in Utah have elevated radon levels; we have just begun to scratch the surface."
This article was written by Christine Keyser, the state indoor radon program coordinator.
If you have radon questions, please e-mail Christine Keyser.