Monday, January 30, 2012

Plea to the House Appropriations Interior Environment Subcommittee: Protect Against the Silent, Invisible Killer--Radioactive Radon Gas

In the last half century an estimated one million people in the U.S. have died from radioactive radon gas exposure,” says Dr. Bill Field as he spoke to the president’s Cancer Panel in 2008; “Radon is a ‘dirty bomb’ within our homes that attacks millions of people each year.“ During National Radon Action Month on January 25 at 12:00 noon, groups of lung cancer survivors and spouses--representing Cancer Survivors Against Radon, groups of individuals that didn’t know they were living with high levels of radon until lung cancer invaded their lives--met simultaneously with their frieAccording to the World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Public Health Service, The Center for Disease Control, the National Cancer Institute, and the Environmental Protection Agency, radon -- an odorless, gaseous radioactive element -- is classified as a known human carcinogen because of the biological and epidemiological data showing the connection between exposure to radon and the occurrence of lung cancer in humans. The National Academy of Sciences Beir VI Report in 1999 estimated that radon causes up to 22,000 lung cancer deaths annually. The U.S. government has ranked residential radon exposure as one of the most serious environmental hazards, and in 1988 Congress passed the Indoor Radon Abatement Act to encourage all states to provide assistance and education to the citizens of the states. On January 13, 2005 the Surgeon General warned Americans about the health risk from exposure to radon in indoor air, urged Americans to test their homes for radioactive radon gas, and stressed the need to remedy the problem as soon as possible when the radon level is four (4) or more picocuries per liter of air. When the Office of Inspector General released the report “More Action Needed to Protect Public from Indoor Radon Risks” in 2008, it appeared that our government was really understanding the fact that 14 percent of all lung cancer deaths can be attributed to radon gas exposure as stated by Dr. Jay Lubin, Senior Health Scientist with the National Cancer Institute. States have been central players in the development of policies addressing indoor air quality. In the absence of a general federal regulatory scheme in this area, states have been free to protect and improve indoor environment. Although most citizens in the nation still are not aware of what radon gas really is, that it can be in any structure, that a test is the only way to detect its presence, or that it causes lung cancer; the threat of reduction in EPA state funding of grants and other services is looming over us now like a dark cloud ready to extinguish existing efforts in radon awareness, education, and action.
During National Radon Action Month on January 25 at 12:00 noon, groups of lung cancer survivors and spouses--representing Cancer Survivors Against Radon, groups of individuals that didn’t know they were living with high levels of radon until lung cancer invaded their lives--met simultaneously with their friends and supporters in five states (Denver, CO; Springfield; IL, Columbus, OH; Nashville, TN; and Salt Lake City, UT) on their capitol steps to raise the awareness of the danger of living, working, and attending school with elevated levels of radioactive radon gas. Among the participants were Charlie McQuinn of Utah who shared his story as a nonsmoker about how shocked he was to discover he had lung cancer, that his home had radon, and that people don’t know what radon gas is. Other members of CanSAR were Amy Edwards whose husband died at age 35 with lung cancer, Faye Dugan the wife of Steve who died from lung cancer, and me. My husband, Joe, passed from this life from lung cancer a short time after his diagnosis. It is difficult for others to understand how we feel when we tell them that radioactive radon gas is a killer, but that it can be prevented. Sometimes they just shrug and pass us by but other times they really listen and pay attention; then we know that we may be saving their lives and the lives of their loved ones. That is what keeps us going because we don’t want this to happen to someone else.
Our U.S. government and the House Appropriations Interior Environment Subcommittee can easily push aside something they are unaware of, that cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted; but they need to open their eyes and heed the signs that radon gas is present in every state. It is taking the lives of our citizens by the thousands each year; more homes exist now with high levels of radon than 25 years ago. According to the EPA, between 6 and 8 million homes are at risk with high levels of radioactive gas, to say nothing about school and workplace environments. Radon-induced lung cancer occurs due to the ingestion of radioactive alpha particles, the attachment of those particles to the lining of the lungs, and the occurrence of DNA alteration which develops into cancerous cells spreading throughout the lungs and often to the liver, the bones, and the brain. A reading of 21 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L ) represents smoking 48 cigarettes a day, says the Alabama Department of Public Health. As with my husband, most nonsmoking lung cancer victims die without knowing the cause of their cancer. The sad truth is that most oncologists are so focused on treatment that they give little thought to prevention. The cost of testing and mitigation of radon is small -- approximately $1,000 -- compared with the removal of a single cancerous lesion in the lung followed by chemotherapy for a period of two years, amounting to about $240,000 in 2008. My plea to all of the Republican and Democratic subcommittee members on the House Appropriations Interior Environment Subcommittee is to consider that lung cancer is bipartisan and to realize the horrible circumstance of receiving a diagnosis of lung cancer knowing that it could have been prevented with the simple action of a test and the installation of a radon mitigation system. No one sees large masses of lung cancer survivors walking with the color of pearl on t-shirts and hats in the streets of Washington, DC and other large cities. Most lung cancer patients are diagnosed in the late stage of the disease with only a 2 to 3 percent five-year survival rate; there is no outstanding early warning symptom of lung cancer. Considering overall lung cancer patients, the five-year survival rate of only 15 percent has not increased in over 30 years. Lung cancer victims are not here to fight for themselves against this greatest cancer killer of all! Our government has a legal, moral, and social responsibility to act for the protection of thousands of citizens that die each year from radon-induced lung cancer. Please remember the purpose of the office—it is to protect our citizens. That protection is not just centered on the battlefields but also in our own homes and daily lives. Just because one is not aware or can’t see something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exit. Please take action by continuing funding and improving protection against this silent, invisible killer. Gloria Linnertz 618 830 4660 Waterloo, IL 62298 January 29, 2012

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