State will test for radon this summer


California's health department will conduct screenings for the carcinogenic gas radon at the South Shore this summer, with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, according to the EPA. It is emitted by decomposing uranium and is found in low levels throughout the country, but occurs at higher levels near certain types of rock, including granite.

Radon seeps up from soils and becomes trapped in homes, increasing the risk of lung cancer in non-smokers and smokers alike.

The numbers in South Shore are likely due to all the granite in the area, said George Faggella, staff environmental scientist with the California Department of Health Services.

All new building allocations from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency this year will come with a handout on reducing radon in newly built homes, according to Ginger Huber with the El Dorado County Department of Environmental Management, which is working with the health department on the project.

In the late 1990's, the EPA identified Douglas County as having a high potential for radon, while El Dorado County has moderate potential.

The EPA suggests taking action to reduce radon levels in the home when they reach 4 picocuries per liter. The measures usually involve sealing cracks and installing a fan in crawlspaces.

In California, a certified radon tester is required for all real estate transactions and to install mitigation measures. No such requirement exists in Nevada.

Real estate transactions are often the first time people hear of radon.

EPA estimates 21,000 people a year die from lung cancer due to radon exposure. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked, according to the EPA's Web site at www.epa.gov/radon/healthrisks.html.

Lung cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers: Between 11 and 15 percent of those diagnosed will live beyond five years. A smoker who is also exposed to radon has a much higher risk of lung cancer, according to the EPA.

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