Friday, April 18, 2014

My Written Testimony to the US House Appropriations Subcommittee on Radon Funding

Gloria Linnertz
Radon Activist/Advocate

Written Testimony for
House Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
B-308 Rayburn House Office Building
April 10, 2014, 9:00 and 1:00
Once again my heart has dropped as the news of the elimination of the FY2015 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Indoor Environments Division (USEPA/IED) State Indoor Radon Grant (SIRG) reached me.  Each year for three years, I have urged and encouraged the continuation and increase in the appropriations from $8 to $16 million for the SIRG because most of our citizens have no idea that they might be living with high levels of radon, attending school in buildings with elevated radon levels, or working in environments with radioactive radon exposure in dangerous amounts.  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 that lung cancer victims are not here to fight for themselves in mass droves because lung cancer is the greatest cancer killer of all.
          Over the last eight years since my husband’s death from radon induced cancer, I’ve devoted my life to radon awareness, education, and action.  During this time, I’ve become friends with and made acquaintances with many people throughout our nation who didn’t know they were living with high levels of radioactive radon gas exposure until they were diagnosed with lung cancer.  Many of them are or were very young:  Monica Pryor 37, mother of 3 small children from SC died in 2008; Steph Langstaat, 33, a middle school principal in IA; Naomi Herzberg, 37, an active young woman in CA; Lori Tassin a vibrant mother of two young children in IA; Linda D’Agostino, mother of a young teenager in PA; Elizabeth Hoffmann diagnosed at 37 a passionate radon advocate for 10 years until her death last year, and others in their early 40’s.  Five of my friends are or were teachers in middle schools—two of them have now passed:  Susan McCormick in OR and Barb Neitge in MN.  Those individuals I mentioned are just a few of the people I’ve met and shared in their lives and stories of radon-induced lung cancer.  My friends all wanted to make a difference so others wouldn’t learn about radon in the manner they did.  Many of them have passed now, so it is up to those of us left who know about the real danger of radon to prevent future radon-induced lung cancer deaths.  There are thousands and thousands of individuals whom I will never meet as they are no longer present physically, but I am here today to speak for them.  An American dies every 25 minutes from lung cancer related to radioactive radon gas exposure in homes, schools, and workplaces.  With eight to ten million U.S. homes existing with elevated levels of radon gas, the Environmental Protection Agency needs a fully functioning vital radon program to help save human lives.  In 1988, a federal law was passed—the Indoor Radon Abatement Act—which stated that our government would protect the citizens from radon gas with state radon programs providing education and awareness.[i]  EPA is walking away from the radon risk reduction, its moral duty and its legal obligation to the public.      

          The EPA estimates 9.2 million U.S. homes have an elevated radon level with 30 percent having an operating radon mitigation system.[ii]  Of course, the more homes that are tested, the greater validity to the radon levels.  An example of that is demonstrated in the county in which I live.  When my husband died of lung cancer, the radon zone we were supposedly living in was a Zone 2; now I live in a Zone 1 radon area.  I haven’t moved. There have just been more tests performed and people are finding out for the first time that their homes have elevated levels of radon.  The National Cancer Institute in 2005 indicated 15,000-22,000 deaths were due to radon exposure; however, with more homes built with undetected high levels of radon than the small percentage of homes being mitigated, that number is most likely underestimated.[iii]  With radon ranking as the number one home hazard by Harvard University, with high levels of this radioactive gas having been detected in every state in our union, and with more deaths attributed to radon exposure than to carbon monoxide, fires and handguns combined, our citizens need to be aware of this increased danger of lung cancer that may be affecting their health.  The carcinogenicity of radon is supported by a consensus of opinions among national and international health organizations such as the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, U.S. Surgeon General, Center for Disease Control, National Cancer Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Public Health Service, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  By informing citizens about the health risk posed by radon exposure and by providing practical advice about radon testing and mitigation, the State Radon Programs through the use of the State Indoor Radon Grants can impact on prevention of radon-induced lung cancer.

          You may wonder what the states do with the State Indoor Radon Grant money received.  I can attest from firsthand knowledge of the awareness, outreach, and education that occurs through the media blitz in newspapers, radio and sometimes TV, but always through appearances at health fairs, home shows, and conference presentations with community and organizational leaders as well as builders and realtors.  Medical forums are also conducted to educate medical professionals with the knowledge and understanding of how they can help increase radon awareness and save lives through radioactive radon exposure prevention.  Radon Education and Networking Days are held, radon video contests are conducted to increase awareness in high schools and involve the young generations in the importance of protecting themselves and their families from elevated radon exposure.  Radon test kits are available at a very reasonable cost and sometimes free to the public.  Without the SIRG appropriation, 80% of the state programs will close and inevitably more deaths will occur through ignorance of the danger of radon exposure.

          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.  My husband, Joe, was diagnosed with late state lung cancer as most lung cancer patients are.  Those patients have only a 2-4% five-year survival rate according to the American Lung Association.  Joe lived six weeks after his diagnosis.  The oncologist told us radon is a known cause of lung cancer.  One month after his death, I found that we had been living with over four times the EPA radon action level for 18 years and had no idea.  If we had only known all of this beforehand—that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, and that elevated levels can be present in any type of structure, and that radon is the leading environmental cause of cancer mortality—we would have taken action to prevent this tragedy.  I cannot describe in words the devastation of hopelessness and helplessness I had when the oncologist told us that the lung cancer was inoperable and there was no cure.  Nor can I completely tell you of my anger when I discovered that radon was the likely cause and contributor of Joe’s death, and how easily it could have been prevented if we had only known.

          Determination overtook my grief, devastation and anger as I gathered statistics, data and scientific studies to present to my Illinois representative with a proposal for mandated radon testing at the point of sale and mitigation required before occupancy if the level was 4.0 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) or higher.  For a solid year, I communicated with all of the Illinois legislators, informing them of the danger of living with elevated levels of radon, and sharing with them the 2006 Illinois Radon Status Report as well as my proposal.  The bill filed is known as the Radon Awareness Act, and as a result of its unanimous passage in the Illinois House and Senate, the number of homeowners testing their home at the point of sale has increased from 8% to 40% according to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.  However, there is no state in our nation that mandates radon testing at the point of sale; nor is there a federal law.  According to a recent survey, 88% of the individuals polled didn’t know the real danger of radon.[iv]  The only way to know is to test, and few people have done that.  What a simple life-saving solution if we had only known.
          We speak about money and appropriations here today.  I ask you to contemplate the value of life.  A radon test kit costs approximate $20 and a radon mitigation installation averages about $1,200-$1,500.  Isn’t a life worth that much?  The appropriation for SIRG is a minuscule amount in our nation’s budget.  So I ask you:  Please don’t sacrifice lives with budget cuts.  We have a government to provide protection for our citizens not just on the battlefields, but in our own homes, schools, and workplaces.
          The time for action is NOW.  According to P. M. Sandman, a toxic Superfund site causes more concern than radon, even though radon exposure kills more Americans each year than all the Superfund sites combined.[v]   However, because of sensationalism, the Superfund sites get most of the funding and attention.  Our citizens don’t stop dying from radon-induced lung cancer just because radon isn’t in the news.
          Please, I urge you to use your voice and your vote to make a difference and help save thousands and thousands of lives each year with the reinstatement of the State Radon Indoor Grants and increased attention and appropriations that this demonic, silent and radioactive killer deserves.

Respectfully Submitted
Gloria Linnertz
Radon Activist, Advocate
March 27, 2014

[iv] Source: “Americans in the Dark About Lung Cancer.” National Lung Cancer Partnership. 2011.
[v] Sandman, P.M. Risk Communication:  Facing Public Outrage. EPA Journal; 1987: 21-22

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