Health officials taking aim at hidden killer

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

We've heard the mantra: smoking is bad for you. Stop smoking and live longer.

That's true, but there's a 50 percent chance that we're living with a threat that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, causes 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year.

We've all heard stories about people who never smoked developing lung cancer. Unless it was second-hand smoke or some other threat, perhaps exposure to radon is to blame.

Radon is a colorless, odorless, naturally occurring gas that originates in the soil and builds to dangerous levels in homes.

"In Nebraska, 50 percent of radon tests conducted yield elevated levels of radon," said Dr. Joann Schaefer, chief medical officer and director of the Division of Public Health in the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

"We clearly have a high incidence in our state."

For nonsmokers, the best way to reduce risk of lung cancer is to test for radon, and if levels are high, to mitigate the threat, usually with some simple type of ventilation.

Winter is the best time to test for radon in Nebraska homes because homes are closed up and can trap the toxic gas until it builds up to dangerous levels.

The Nebraska Radon Program offers low-cost, $5 radon test kits as well as technical assistance. A list of trained professionals is available at the Nebraska Radon Program Web site: http://www.dhhs.ne.gov/radon.

To purchase a short-term radon test kit for $5, send a check or money order with name and mailing address to: Nebraska Radon Program, 301 Centennial Mall South, Lincoln, NE 68509.

To learn more about radon and the Nebraska Radon Program, visit the website at http://www.dhhs.ne.gov/radon/. For more information, call the Nebraska Radon Hotline at 1-800-334-9491 or contact your local health department which you can find at http://www.dhhs.ne.gov/puh/oph/lhd.htm.

Gov. Dave Heineman has proclaimed January to be Radon Action Month.

"We appreciate the Governor's proclamation," Dr. Schaefer said. "It supports our goal of raising awareness and ultimately saving lives."

As with many health issues, early detection is key, and there's no reason to fear discovering radon in your home. Testing for radon now can help ensure your health and that of your family for years to come.

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