The elimination of the FY2016 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Indoor Environments Division (USEPA/IED) State Indoor Radon Grant (SIRG) is devastating to me. I urge and encourage the continuation of the appropriations of $8 million for EPA SIRG because most of our citizens have no idea that they might be living, attending school, or working in environments with elevated radon levels of radioactive radon gas. 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, 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, and to imagine the horrible circumstance of receiving a diagnosis of lung cancer knowing that it could have been prevented with a simple test and the installation of a radon mitigation system.
Several years ago my husband, Joe, asked me if we should check our home for radon gas. I said, “No, our home is only 20 years old and we have a tight basement.” I was very confident in my ignorance, for I didn’t know that radioactive radon gas can be in any type of home: old, new, basement, no basement, crawl space, or slab-on-grade. I didn’t know that the tighter the home, the greater the possibility of high levels of radon, so we didn’t test. In December 2006, Joe was diagnosed with lung cancer. The oncologist told us that radon was a known cause of lung cancer. Joe died six weeks after his diagnosis and never knew that for 18 years we had been living with over four times the EPA action level of radon. According to a recent survey 88% of the nation’s population doesn’t know that radon gas is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers or the leading environmental cause of cancer mortality. Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of all cancer. Most lung cancer patients are not diagnosed until this demon is in its final stages; there is only a 4% five-year survivor rate for late-stage lung cancer. Most people are completely unaware if there is a presence of elevated radioactive radon gas in their home or not. 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. The amount of funding to this program is minuscule compared to other programs that don’t even have the public’s safety at stake. I ask you to change your direction and to think of the lives of our citizens before closing the door to a program that is saving lives.
Over the last nine years since Joe’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 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 was a mother of a young teenager in PA; and Elizabeth Hoffmann diagnosed at 37 was a passionate radon advocate for 10 years and many 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. The 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 and YOU who know about the real danger of radon to help 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. EPA has a moral duty and 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. 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 Joe 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. 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—the leading cause of death in our homes--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. Through a survey it was revealed that without the SIRG appropriation, all but three state programs would 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. It was one month after his death when I found that we had been living with a radon level of 17.6 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). 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 (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. Although my proposal of mandated testing was filed, it wasn’t called. The bill filed and called is known as the Illinois Radon Awareness Act, and as a result of its unanimous passage in the Illinois House and Senate and enactment in 2008, the number of homeowners testing their home at the point of sale has increased from 8% to nearly 50% 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. My ultimate goal is to have The Radon Awareness Act as a federal law. Minnesota copied this law and has seen the same positive results.
We speak about money and appropriations here today. I ask you to contemplate the value of life. A radon test kit costs approximately $20 and a radon mitigation installation averages about $1,200-$1,500. Isn’t a life worth that much? 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 as well. However, people will not protect themselves and their families from something they are unaware of.
Your opportunity to make a difference and help save lives is present today. 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. 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.
Radon Reduction Activist, Advocate
March 3, 2015
Radon Reduction Activist, Advocate
March 3, 2015
 Sandman, P.M. Risk Communication: Facing Public Outrage. EPA Journal; 1987: 21-22