Radon hazard is being mapped: Study finds half of South Shore homes may have radon levels that exceed standards | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Radon hazard is being mapped: Study finds half of South Shore homes may have radon levels that exceed standards

Adam Jensen

Initial information from an update to a California study of radon gas in homes in the Sierra Nevada, completed last month, has found more than half of the residences at the South Shore may contain unacceptable levels of the radioactive carcinogen.

The update is part of an effort by the California Department of Health Services to determine the prevalence of radon throughout the mountain range and includes new data from surveys in El Dorado, Nevada and Placer counties.

“They’re still in the process of putting that information together into a map,” said Ginger Huber, Tahoe division manager of the Environmental Management Department, who has been working with the state on the update. “Initial information indicates there are areas above the recommended levels of radon up here.”

Although just 1 percent of homes in California typically break the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s indoor air quality standard of 4 picocuries per liter of air, larger percentages of homes in the Sierra Nevada have been found to contain elevated levels of the gas. A picocurie is a measure of radioactivity.

When included with the original survey, conducted in November 2006, the update puts the percentage of homes containing air above 4 picocuries in El Dorado, Amador, Placer, Plumas and Nevada counties at 38 percent, according to information from the update provided by Jeff Miner, a radon testing advocate at the South Shore.

The percentages grow higher when South Lake Tahoe zip codes are isolated.

Out of 528 South Lake Tahoe homes surveyed during the update, conducted since the first of the year, 52 percent were found to be above the EPA standard.

Radon is a colorless, odorless, naturally-occurring, radioactive gas released from soils that can accumulate to dangerous levels in homes, especially during colder months when windows and doors typically remain closed.

The health risk radon presents is dependent on the concentration of radon inside of a structure, as well as the length of time someone is exposed to the gas.

Approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year, second only to cigarette smoking, are attributed to radon by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Although not included in the California study, Nevada communities at Lake Tahoe have also been found with similar radon issues.

Data from a Nevada State Health Division collected between 1989 and 1991 found as many as 69 percent of homes in Zephyr Cove have levels of radon above 4 picocuries.

The issue has been recently highlighted by Zephyr Cove Elementary School officials’ efforts to lower levels of radon at the school.

Results from radon testing at the elementary school and Kingsbury Middle School, conducted last weekend, are expected back by the end of the week.

Huber said presentations to both the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors and the South Lake Tahoe City Council on the prevalence of radon at the South Shore are planned for the “end of October or the first part of November.”

A solution …

Amending South Lake Tahoe building codes could be one part of limiting the health risks associated with radon gas, according to one South Shore radon-testing advocate.

Jeff Miner, the owner of a mail order business at the South Shore offering radon detectors, pitched the idea to members of the South Lake Tahoe City Council during their Tuesday meeting.

Among the control methods included in international building codes presented to the council on Tuesday are extra sealant requirements for joints and floors, as well as specially designed vents keeping radon from building up to dangerous levels inside a home.

“It’s very do-able, and it will address problems we haven’t addressed before,” Miner said at the meeting.

The viability of incorporating the codes into city ordinances was not discussed further at Tuesday’s meeting because it was brought up during the public comment period, which does not allow for discussion or action by the council.

Cold hard facts …

Smokers …

If 1,000 people who smoked were exposed to a radon level of 20 pCi/L over a lifetime 260 people could get lung cancer.

The risk of cancer from radon exposure (at 20 pCi/L) compares to …

— 250 times the risk of drowning

The risk of cancer from radon exposure (at 10 pCi/L) compares to …

— 200 times the risk of dying in a home fire.

Non Smokers …

If 1,000 people who never smoked were exposed to a radon level of 20 pCi/L over a lifetime 36 people could get lung cancer.

The risk of cancer from radon exposure (at 20 pCi/L) compares to …

— 35 times the risk of drowning

The risk of cancer from radon exposure (at 10 pCi/L) compares to …

— 20 times the risk of dying in a home fire.

Source: Health Risks, Radon, Indoor Air Quality

http://www.epa.gov/radon/healthrisks.html


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