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Radon Testing as a Campus Community Service

Date Published: 07/11/2006 [Source]

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is attributable to an estimated 20,000 deaths in the United States per year from exposure to the gas, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. At last month's Health Physics Society meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, however, a scientist described an alternative program that provided convenient, impartial, and cost-effective assistance from an unlikely source: the local university.

As part of his job as Wright State Radiation Safety Officer, Tom Mohaupt performs radon tests on the premises of Wright State University. But Mohaupt decided to share his expertise beyond the campus walls. He knew radon was a subject of legitimate concern in the community.

In talking with his neighbors the scientist quickly learned where to start. The question he got most often was: What is radon? He designed a simple answer. "Radon is a gas, and a gas is free to travel just about anywhere," he says. Radon comes from the earth, starting out as solid uranium. "Uranium eventually decays to radium which then decays to radon, an inert gas," he explains, which can seep from the soil to the nooks and crannies of a home's foundation. Once radon gas is inside the home, residents can breathe the radioactive substance into their lungs.

January had been declared "Radon Action Month." Wright State chose January to offer radon detector detectors to the campus community. They would order quality, long-term radon detectors in bulk so that residents could buy them at a volume discount.

Rather than advising residents to obtain inexpensive or even free short-term testing kits, Mohaupt encouraged homeowners to buy equipment that can test radon levels over long periods of time.

The problem with short-term testing kits, explains Mohaupt, is that there are many variables that can literally waver on a daily basis. "Short-term tests provide only a snapshot of the radon present, which can vary significantly due to the time of day, season, ventilation, weather, suspended dust or smoke, soil composition beneath the home, and many other factors," he says.

While the long-term testing kits were more expensive, he says they're worth it.

But first he had to gauge the level of interest in the community.

Mohaupt and his colleagues emailed the announcement about "Radon Action Month" to university staff, faculty, students, and retirees, but anyone in the local area was welcome to participate. Sure enough, university employees shared information about the program with their friends, families and neighbors. Some ordered radon detectors for their loved ones, and "we encouraged that," Mohaupt says. In turn, they provided more participants for Mohaupt to get better discounts on the kits with vendors.

"If only we had 10 participants it would be abysmal, if we had 30 it would be successful, but we ended up with 160 resident participants," he says.

"We were pleasantly surprised at the program's success," Mohaupt says. The kits supplied everything residents needed to perform the test, including general information on radon and testing directions.