Protect your family from the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.
PHILADELPHIA (January 8, 2013) – January is national Radon Action Month and the
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency encourages everyone to test their homes for radon. January is an especially good time to test homes and schools because windows and doors are closed tightly and people spend more time indoors.
Unsafe levels of radon can lead to serious illness. The Surgeon General has warned that
radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States with an estimated 21,000 deaths a year. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths. By making simple fixes in a home or building people can lower their health risks from radon.
Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas; so testing is the only way to know if radon is present in your home or school. Test kits are available in home improvement centers and hardware stores and costs approximately $20. The kits are simple to use with easy testing and mailing instructions.
Make the commitment to protect your family. Test for radon in air / water . Fix the problem if you find elevated radon levels. Save a life!
For more information about radon and radon testing see: http://www.epa.gov/radon/
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Carbon County Groundwater Guardians is a 501(c)(3) IRS approved nonprofit, volunteer organization and your donation is tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.
By NAOMI CREASON The Sentinel, Carlisle
January 31, 2012
There are a number of concerns when buying or owning a home, but the state Department of Environmental Protection is hoping homeowners pay attention to a specific odorless and radioactive gas — radon.
Bob Lewis, the program manager for DEP’s Radon Division, finds that most people don’t really think of radon, even though Pennsylvania residents should worry about the levels in their home.
“Pennsylvania could be one of the worst states in the country,” Lewis said. “There’s a handful of states that show high levels of radon, and we’re up there. I think about 49 of the 67 counties in the state are EPA zoned 1 counties. It’s just a characteristic of our geography. It’s easy for gas to migrate through the ground.”
The federal Environmental Protection Agency splits the country into three zones of radon levels, with Zone 1 being the highest and Zone 3 having the lowest levels. Pennsylvania just happens to find itself in a Zone 1 hotspot, where levels of radon are most often above the acceptable limit. Not all of Pennsylvania is Zone 1.
Radon is a gas that rises from the soil. Radon levels are low enough outside that no one really has to worry about the risk being outside. However, radon can build up in enclosed spaces, such as homes, and increase the level of indoor radon to dangerous levels.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, and the leading cause in non-smokers. Radon is expected to be the cause of 20,000 lung cancer deaths every year, according to the DEP.
“Radon affects the lungs,” Lewis said. “Because it’s a gas, you breathe it in. The particles lodge on the lining tissue in the tracheal/bronchial part of the lung, and those particles are radioactive. It gives off radioactive emissions in the lung, which affects the DNA.”
There isn’t a set exposure level of radon that means all residents will get lung cancer. Those who smoke are much more likely to get lung cancer when being additionally exposed to radon, while it could be hit-and-miss for non-smokers who live in homes with high levels of radon, especially depending on how long a person has lived in that home.
“The best possible thing you can do is test your house,” Lewis said. “It’s so easy to do. You can get a test kit that costs $25 or $30 from a home center and test your house. We generally test in the basement, so you get the worst-case scenario number. People don’t realize they could test for it. I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and that seems to be the biggest misconception.”
Contact: Bonnie Smith, 215-814-5543, email@example.com
Overexposure to radon: Second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.
Free television, print and audio pieces available for January – Radon Action Month
PHILADELPHIA ( January 5, 2012) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declared January as Radon Action Month as part of the agency’s on-going efforts to make families aware of the health hazard presented by radon in homes.
EPA has created several free, publicly-available graphics about radon, and a public service announcement campaign for print, television, and radio at http://www.epa.gov/radon encouraging families to test their homes for radon.
EPA’s newest campaign is Living Healthy & Green.
Radon enters homes from underground. So, living healthy and green starts from the ground up. By preventing radon from entering homes, every family can have safer, healthier air to breathe.
EPA developed Living Healthy & Green to educate the public about how easy it can be to mitigate radon. Part of the campaign features former NFL kicker Fuad Reveiz, now a home builder who uses radon-resistant construction and encourages others to do the same.
The 30 second television and radio pieces are available copyright free. The campaign is available in multiple media formats and sizes for newspapers, magazines, billboards and the web in both English and Spanish. Elements can be viewed and ordered on line at www.epapsa.com/campaigns/greensox/.
Audio podcasts about radon provide interview topic ideas, see: http://www.epa.gov/region3/multimedia/frame1contents/audio_topics.html.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
By DONALD R. SERFASS firstname.lastname@example.org
Is it radon, fly ash or something else?
Is radon the culprit in an unusually high number of cases of a rare blood illness in Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties? Or is it fly ash? Or maybe something else?
Those possibilities are being examined, along with a variety of other scenarios as part of $8.8M in research and investigations.
At Wednesday’s public meeting, sponsored by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the Tri-County Polycythemia Vera (PV) Community Advisory Committee, an expert said significantly high levels of radon have been seen in studies here.
Robert K. Lewis, manager, hazardous sites cleanup, Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH), told 50 in attendance at the Tamaqua Community Center that one environmental analysis of air quality has turned up an area of concern.
“We sampled radon in homes. Fifty percent of homes were 4 picocuries or higher,” noted Lewis, who explained that 48 different locations were tested. One area tested was where a high incidence of PV cases has been identified.
“We were requested to sample along Ben Titus Road,” said Lewis.
In terms of water analysis, Lewis said testing was done on “a combination of well water and commercial water supplies such as the Tamaqua Water Authority.”
Lewis said results indicate that Tamaqua residential drinking water appears to have no problem with contaminants. However, “we didn’t (test for) radon in water,” he added. That is one area that would need to be looked at, said Lewis.
Lewis indicated that drinking water testing turned up only two lead results and two nitrate.
“The department doesn’t feel that drinking water is a problem here, but we should go back and look for radon.”
One expert said the entire effort is multipronged.
“You have an interdisciplinary group of scientists working on these studies,” said Dr. Henry Cole of Maryland, who has been working with Tom Murphy, Hometown, a founder of the CAC group.
The meeting featured updates by the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection, the agency sampling drinking water, dust and soil at the homes of study participants.
In addition, workers are testing water and sediment at the McAdoo Superfund site and cogeneration plants in the area.
A team from Drexel University is trying to identify risk factors for the disease, while researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are studying the frequency of PV cases.
Research updates target PV incidence
The session provided a broad range of updates from a variety of sources:
Ÿ Elizabeth Irvin-Barnwell of the ATSDR said a total of 1,150 persons were screened for the JAK2 mutation, found in those who develop PV. In addition, 3,500 DNA samples were analyzed for the mutation.
“We can link each person’s test with demographic factors … it’s a groundbreaking study,” said Irvin-Barnwell.
Ÿ Dr. Lora Siegmann Werner of the ATSDR outlined initiatives in health education, such as developing literature to address “What does it mean if you have PV?” A comprehensive list of physicians has been completed because there is great need to get information to doctors, she said. She also lauded work by the CAC support group and Michelle Greshner.
Ÿ Dr. Jeanine Buchanich, University of Pittsburgh said, “We’re working with the Department of Health to do an expansion of the original study.” She said 372 cases are included in the study, all from the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry. She said as many folks as possible should take part.
“We’re hoping CAC members will convey how important it is to participate in the study. The success of the study depends on getting people to participate.”
Ÿ Dr. Carol Ann Gross-Davis of Drexel University reported on a case control study of 147 people.
“Of the cases, we have 24 consented who have PV. We had 10 percent who declined to participate, which is their right,” she said, adding, “We’re doing it through the Geisinger system, coordinating through the University of Pittsburgh.”
Ÿ Dr. Jim Logue, Pennsylvania DOH principal investigator for the myeloproliferative neoplasm program, said he’s been involved in cancer analyses since 2004. He announced success with a partnership.
“We secured two contracts with the University of Pittsburgh.”
Ÿ David Marchetto, the department’s program manager, said progress is being made.
“The pieces are coming together,” he said. “We’re working with state, federal and local partners.” Marchetto also said, “Misclassification of the disease is a concern to us. There are cases reported to the cancer registry that aren’t PV, not only here but in southwestern and central Pa. as well.”
Similarly, sometimes PV cases do not get reported, he stated.
It was noted that Dr. Peter Jaran, environmental engineer from New Jersey, will look at groundwater and potential sources of contamination.
Local residents had several questions for the experts.
Irene Genther, a Nesquehoning resident and former educator with extensive background in the sciences, asked for clarification as to whether susceptibility to PV can be attributed to heredity. Irvin-Barnwell said heredity itself isn’t seen as a factor. Still, family history and ethnicity are areas being examined.
Genther advised attendees that contaminants such as fly ash dust and radon aren’t found only in the ground, but are airborne.
Some said a solution isn’t coming fast enough.
“It’s been eight years and we still don’t have an answer,” said PV patient Merle Wertman, Tamaqua. Wertman was on hand with wife Linda. The two have been staying on top of developments with the disease. Wertman was diagnosed in 2003. He has no family history of cancer.
Dr. Cole had words of praise for Murphy, a community volunteer who devotes himself to the role of environmental and health activist.
“Joe has put so much into this,” said Cole. “He’s been the guiding light. He put his whole heart and soul into this.”
Those in attendance gave Murphy a round of applause for his role in coordinating activities of the CAC.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
By DONALD R. SERFASS email@example.com
Polycythemia vera (PV) is a blood disease in which the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells, causing the thickening of blood.
PV usually takes years to develop. Most people are diagnosed with PV later in life, most often around age 60 or older.
People with PV might experience headaches, tiredness and shortness of breath. They are also at risk of getting blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
At this time, there is no cure for PV, but treatment can control symptoms and avoid heart problems. Some people with PV do not need treatment but should see their doctor regularly to stay as healthy as possible and to catch problems early, according to information provided by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
In 2008, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) and the ATSDR confirmed more PV cases than expected in parts of Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties.
Much scrutiny is being done to find a potential smoking gun, or factors that would potentially lead to the disease.
The DOH and the ATSDR are tracking patterns of PV and working with research partners in looking for trends and risk factors. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control is working to improve reporting systems for PV.
“This is an environmentally stressed area,” said Dr. Henry Cole of Maryland, noting the prevalence of local power plants, Superfund sites and an abundance of fly ash being dumped in Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties.
An apparent cancer cluster was first observed along Ben Titus Road, which is situated next to the Big Gorilla coal combustion waste dump of the Northeastern Power Co. The area is also home to the Superfund site McAdoo Associates. Other industrial waste sites are found in the area as well.
While the state agencies are now helping to pinpoint possible causes, critics point out that all of the industrial waste sites were created under the oversight of the former state Department of Environmental Resources, now the Department of Environmental Protection
The New York Times raised some eyebrows by saying Pennsylvania’s monitoring of water from gas well sites is lax. Is there any danger to our drinking water from a process known as hydraulic fracturing?
Engineering a producing gas well is not as simple as drilling a hole in the ground and adding some pipe. Underground rock structures have to be fractured to release natural gas. The process is known as hydraulic fracturing. Water, acid and other materials are pumped under extremely high pressure to fracture the underground rock structures. The process has been used for decades in Pennsylvania.
The New York Times articles suggest that naturally occurring, low level radioactivity picked up by underground water could be a health hazard if it reaches drinking water supplies.
It was the first thing that Governor Corbett’s choice for DEP Secretary was asked about in a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
“There are drinking water standards,” said Judge Michael Krancer, the Acting DEP Secretary. “As one of the commentators of the article says, we think it’s safe. There have been calls from various quarters to do some testing.”
Judge Krancer said if he’s confirmed as DEP Secretary, he’ll look into such testing.
But the man who just departed as DEP Secretary said experts on radioactivity and health within the agency assured him it is not a concern.
“Those are the experts in state government who looked at this thing and were very sure at the time that it did not pose a threat,” said former DEP Secretary John Hanger.
Hanger said drinking water operators are already required to check for radioactivity, although not that frequently. He said doing more testing is the smart thing to do.
A DEP spokesperson said about 70 percent of waste water at gas well sites is recycled on-site. Some of the waste water goes to treatment plants for processing before being released in streams and rivers.
Mar 02, 2011
Two large Pennsylvania water providers said Wednesday they planned to immediately test public water supplies in response to outcry over a news report that radioactive gas-drilling wastewater may have been discharged into the state’s streams.
The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and Pennsylvania American Water Co. said they hoped the tests in the next few weeks would address fears that public drinking water is imperiled by Marcellus Shale gas drilling.
“We want to know if there is a problem here,” said Stanley States, director of water quality and production for the Pittsburgh authority, which plans to take monthly radiological samples at its two treatment plants for the next year. “We need data.”
Pennsylvania American, which has five treatment plants in and around Pittsburgh that are near gas-drilling operations, will conduct “a battery of radiological tests during the next few weeks,” said Terry M. Maenza, a spokesman for the company headquartered in Hershey.
“We expect there will be no cause for concern,” he said.
Public officials, environmental advocates, and industry representatives have called on regulators to require more frequent testing of Pennsylvania water supplies after the New York Times reported Sunday that some radioactive wastewater is sent to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water.
The report focused on discharges in Western and north-central Pennsylvania, where drillers are active. No producing wells are active in the Delaware River basin, which provides the Philadelphia region with drinking water.
The Times reported that some wastewater from Marcellus Shale gas-drilling contained radioactivity at levels higher than previously known. Radioactive materials such as uranium and radium occur naturally in deep rock formations and are brought to the surface in wastewater associated with hydraulic fracturing, the controversial technique that drillers use to release natural gas locked up in the mile-deep formation.
Though the Times reported that some wastewater at well sites contained elevated radioactivity, the potential health effects are unclear because little testing has been conducted since the shale boom took off three years ago.
Prolonged ingestion of the low-level radioactive material is believed to increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Brief skin contact with the wastewater is not considered dangerous.
“Drinking water with elevated levels of radium and uranium – which are found in virtually all rock, soil, and water – may cause cancer after several years,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says on its website.
Elevated radiation levels can be reduced with treatment, according to some environmental agencies that tell homeowners with private wells that standard water softeners can reduce radium and that more expensive reverse-osmosis systems can remove uranium and radium.
The EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection require radiological testing infrequently in areas with no history of radioactive contamination. The Pittsburgh system last tested its water for radioactivity in 2005, States said.
“If we find something elevated, we’ll certainly bring it to the regulators’ attention right away,” he said.
The cost of the tests is not a factor. States said an Indiana laboratory would charge about $150 for each test.
U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D., Pa.) was among the officials who this week called on regulators to require more frequent testing.
But regulators have stopped short of ordering more tests.
Richard Yost, an EPA spokesman, said Monday the agency was examining radioactivity as part of a two-year national study of hydraulic fracturing.
“While we conduct this study, we will not hesitate to take any steps under the law to protect Americans whose health may be at risk,” he said in an e-mail.
Katherine Gresh, a Pennsylvania DEP spokeswoman, said the agency was awaiting results of radium tests on water samples collected in November and December from seven rivers: the Monongahela at Charleroi; the Tioga; the West Branch of the Susquehanna; the Conemaugh; the Allegheny; the Beaver; and the South Fork of Ten Mile Creek. “Requiring more frequent testing is definitely under consideration,” she said.
Wastewater has become a huge challenge for the Marcellus industry, which recycles about 70 percent of its wastewater.
The Susquehanna River Basin Commission has conducted some tests of radioactivity in Marcellus streams, said Andy Gavin, manager of restoration and protection. The tests indicated no contamination.
But commission officials caution that the samples were drawn from smaller tributaries upstream from sewage-treatment plants, so they would not detect radiation from wastewater legally disposed of at the plants, but only contamination from spills or illegal dumping.
“We’re still collecting baseline information,” Gavin said.
By Andrew Maykuth
Inquirer Staff Writer
Mar. 3, 2011
States Pursue Radon Limits in Drinking Water as EPA Action Lags
By GAYATHRI VAIDYANATHAN of Greenwire
Published: December 7, 2010
States are taking the lead with studying levels of radon in drinking water and air even as federal regulators lag, as a coincidence of geology and population density leaves some more at risk than others of suffering from the naturally occurring radioactive toxin.
Nine states have guidelines for radon in drinking water, with New Jersey considering the most stringent levels, fourfold tighter than a limit proposed but never mandated by U.S. EPA in 1999.
Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts and Wisconsin are the other states that have some guidance levels for the chemical, said Ted Campbell, a hydrogeologist with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and chairman of a committee tasked with recommending its own levels.
But most of the recommendations are at levels scientists say are insufficient to protect human health. Read more
Posted on Mon, Aug. 9, 2010
N.J., Pa. weigh how much to regulate deadly radon
By James Osborne
Inquirer Staff Writer
When it comes to carcinogens that industrial plants dump into the water, the government generally takes a hard line on levels of public exposure.
But public health officials accept far greater risk with the naturally occurring radioactive substance radon, which enters homes from the ground and underground aquifers through basements and water pipes.
The radioactive gas, the dangers of which have been known for decades, is so prevalent in nature that getting to the standard risk level would be nearly impossible.
New Jersey and Pennsylvania are among a number of states plentiful in radon. For more than a decade, state and federal governments have held off in regulating how much of the gas should be allowed in drinking water. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is analyzing data as it considers its next step.
In a report last year, the scientific body charged with this task, the New Jersey Drinking Water Quality Institute, recommended that homes and schools have mandatory air tests – nearly all radon-related deaths come from lung cancer – and a maximum level for drinking water set at a point where an additional 1 in 2,000 people would develop cancer over a lifetime of exposure.
That’s 500 times the accepted risk for the standard industrial pollutant.
The DEP is reviewing the institute’s report and will conduct its own inquiry, said John Plonski, assistant commissioner for water resources. “We are taking this very seriously,” he said.
There is no time frame for when possible radon regulations would be in place, Plonski said.
Scientists estimate that more than 200,000 New Jerseyans – primarily in the northwest, but also in parts of Gloucester County – are exposed to radon levels at or greater than the prescribed level.
Over the last two decades, public water systems have at times reached levels more than 25 times the allowable radon exposure recommended to DEP, according to the institute’s data.
That’s because excess radon is found in underground aquifers, not in water drawn from rivers, where the gas escapes.
In areas where radon is known to be prevalent, some residents intentionally stand back when they turn on the faucet or shower, which sends the radioactive gas in the water into the air. But many never think about it until they’re selling their home and are requested by the buyer or mortgage company to have a radon air test performed. The tests are not required in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, according to state environmental officials.
“Most people don’t realize because it’s odorless and colorless,” said Ed Knorr, a self-employed home contamination inspector and environmental activist in Gloucester County.
“When I tell them they have a radon problem, some will turn around and look at it as being a serious concern. Others will say, ‘Oh, well, it hasn’t killed me yet.’ Until there’s a real good program put out there, most people are never going to know.”
To install filtration systems and bring New Jersey’s water-distribution systems in line will cost about $79 million over 20 years, according to the institute’s report. That doesn’t include private wells, upon which about 40 percent of the state relies.
In the macabre math of public health, that works out to $400,000 for each person whose death from breathing and drinking radon would be prevented over 70 years, according to an institute analysis.
The cost of bringing down radon in homes with private wells is likely to be high as well, with home filtration systems running between $3,000 and $5,000, Knorr said.
With New Jersey’s economy in peril, environmentalists are skeptical that Gov. Christie will move forward on radon regulation.
Since taking office in January, Christie’s administration has delayed a number of proposed environmental regulations, including a decision on perchlorate, a chemical found in fertilizer and rocket fuel that has been found in drinking water in North Jersey.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency first proposed regulating radon levels in groundwater in 1999. The outcry was intense, with water officials across the country portending massive rate increases. A decade later, the agency’s proposed rule still is not finalized, an EPA representative said.
Pennsylvania, which has elevated radon levels across most of the eastern half of the state, does not regulate radon and also is awaiting a decision by the EPA, said a representative for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
The fact is, radon is everywhere – in the air, the water and in the ground. In many areas, just breathing will increase the cancer risk in more than one in a million people, said Judith Klotz, a public health professor at Drexel University who helped write the institute’s report.
So the question becomes: What level is acceptable at what cost?
“There is a background risk of developing lung cancer from just living on this planet,” Klotz said. “We looked at distribution of radon in the groundwater, the cost of treatment, the risks at various levels.”
A limit of one additional cancer death per 2,000 people “seemed a reasonable recommendation,” she said.
Bill Wolfe, the New Jersey director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, has been a frequent critic of the DEP since he left the agency a few years ago.
The process of weighing expense against human life is a job for the Legislature, not one the state’s scientists should undertake, Wolfe says.
“DEP is supposed to base its decision on science. If they propose a law that is to bankrupt the state, it’s not their job to decide whether that’s right or not,” he said. “If it’s going to be $12 more a month on the water bill, then let’s have the debate.”
It’s difficult to gauge how the public would react in choosing between high levels of radon in groundwater and increased water bills, said Edward Christman, an environmental health professor at Columbia University.
He has worked on groundwater issues for decades and believes public reaction to potential loss of life has less to do with quantifiable risk than the form death might take.
“The public perception of this risk is small because [radon] doesn’t smell, it doesn’t kill you right away,” he said. “Driving a car is a higher risk, for instance. But it’s a risk the general public is willing to accept without too much worry.”