As the leading cause of cancer deaths in America, lung cancer is responsible for more deaths each year than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.
Smoking is widely known as the leading cause of lung cancer, but officials urge area residents to be aware of lung cancer’s second leading cause — and the disease’s No. 1 cause in non smokers — radon.
Radon is a radioactive element naturally occurring in the Earth’s crust. Deposits in the soil dissipate harmlessly into the environment, unless they become trapped in a home or workplace. Inadequate ventilation can lead to dangerous levels of radon in basements or the lowest floor of a building.
“Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that results from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks. It cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in this country, and is the leading cause among non-smokers,” states the American Cancer Society website. “When it is breathed in, it enters the lungs, exposing them to small amounts of radiation. This may increase a person's risk of lung cancer. Houses in some parts of the United States built on soil with natural uranium deposits can have high indoor radon levels (especially in basements). Studies from these areas have found that the risk of lung cancer is higher in those who have lived for many years in a radon-contaminated house.”
More than 20,000 deaths are attributed to radon gas each year. Among the victims was the sister-in-law of David Coffey, owner of Covenant Air. At the age of 50, Coffey’s sister-in-law died of lung cancer having never been a smoker. After testing her home, radon levels were found to be more than five times the advisable level.
Since the death of his sister-in-law, Coffey has developed a passion for raising radon awareness and now his company specializes in testing and mitigation in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Representing Covenant Air in Georgia is Rydal resident Sheila Roggow Miller, radon measurement and public relations specialist. Miller joined Covenant Air after finding her own passion for radon gas awareness.
Miller and her family moved to their Bartow County home nearly two years ago and after a year in their new residence checked for radon levels based on a friend’s suggestion.
“It started with having my own home tested. And our family has always been real health conscious, we try to eat organically, eat a lot of greens, we exercise — but a friend called us saying that he had gotten real sick after living in his own basement after his twins were born. He found out about this radon thing and asked if we had tested our home. I had never even heard of it as a possibility and then found out that we were at an eight,” Miller said, referring to the rate of picocuries per liter. “That’s how I got involved, because there we were, like a lot of other families, trying to do the best for our family — you’re doing all these great things and here you could be being bathed in radioactive gas in your own home.”
The Environmental Protection Agency advises mitigation for any home registering more than 4 pCi/L, although rates lower than 4 pCi/L still can be harmful. After mitigation services, Miller’s home was lowered to around 2 pCi/L and since underground gas deposits can shift, she suggests annual testing.
Companies such as Covenant Air can provide testing services or self-administered home tests can be purchased from most home improvement stores. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Office also can provide further information as well as contact information for radon specialists with UGA. Radon tests can be ordered from the Bartow County Extension Office, 320 W. Ave. in Cartersville, for $10.
For more information on radon gas and lung cancer, visit www.epa.gov/radon. To contact Covenant Air, call 423-790-0368 or visit www.seradonspecialists.com.
To raise awareness for the No. 1 cause of lung cancer, smoking, the American Cancer Society is sponsoring the 37th annual Great American Smokeout on Nov. 15 asking smokers to quit for one day and take steps toward a healthier life. For more information, visit www.cancer.org.