Anti-radon modifications inspired by Rochester man's ordeal

Anti-radon modifications inspired by Rochester man’s ordeal

***5/19/2007 8:55:19 AM ***
**By Matthew Stolle](
*The Post-Bulletin *
*It reportedly causes more death than drunken driving, drowning and home fires, yet radon has never received the respect as a threat to public health that health experts believe it deserves. *
*Part of the reason, experts note, is the nature of the gas itself. Though radioactive, it is naturally occurring, not man-made. Being tasteless and invisible, it also is not easy to detect. *
*Even the studies that have established a statistical link between radon and lung cancer have produced conclusions that critics have found easy to mock. *
*The best known of those surveys is the Iowa Radon Lung Cancer study. That study showed that prolonged exposure to radon – defined as 76 years, 18 hours a day at a level of 4 picocuries per liter – increased one’s risk of lung cancer at about 2 percent, on an individual basis. *
*That may seem small, said Dan Delano, a registered environmental health specialist for Olmsted County, but from a public health standpoint, the number is huge. *
*“When you start talking about 2 percent of the U.S. population, that’s a lot of people,” Delano said. *
*A new law authored by Rep. Kim Norton and signed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty this month mandates that a radon mitigation system be installed in homes at the time of construction. The requirement is expected to add an extra $500 to the price tag of a house, home builders say. *
*Making such modifications after a house is already built is more expensive, from $1,200 to $2,000. *
*Though the Home Builders Association of Minnesota came out in support of the legislation, some area home builders remain ambivalent about the new requirement. *
*Mike Paradise, president of Bigelow Homes in Rochester, worries that the new mandate and other changes to the building code are driving the price of new houses to unaffordable levels. *
*“Collectively, all these little things that get added on do prohibit some people from being able to afford housing,” Paradise said. *
*Yet Paradise doesn’t dispute that Rochester has some areas of town with high radon levels. *
*Part of the problem is the way homes are built and sealed so tightly these days. That air-tight quality, combined with all the fans, clothes dryers and other exhaust systems inside a home, creates a negative pressure that sucks in gases like radon. *
New homeowner gets a surprise
*Rick Rein was a new homeowner in Rochester when Olmsted County officials sent him a letter inviting him to test his home for radon. Rein knew little about radon, having come from the Chicago area, where radon is not as big an issue. The test showed radon levels slightly above recommended Environmental Protection Agency amounts in his home. *
*Rein did a little more digging and found out that area builders, though aware of the radon issue, weren’t required to incorporate radon mitigation systems into the homes they build. *
*He also wondered why such systems weren’t mandated at the time of construction, since their installation after construction is considerably more expensive. *
*“I just felt like we’ve got so many laws in this country aimed at protecting citizens and consumers, why was this one kind of missed and neglected?” Rein said. *
*He eventually passed on his concerns to Norton, who was running for office at the time. Norton lost her bid for office that year. During that time, Norton had her own house tested for radon and was distressed to discover radon levels twice the accepted level. *
*When she won election in 2006, she took her concerns about radon to the House of Representatives. *
*Her bill, signed by Pawlenty this month, requires that home builders install a system for keeping radon out of homes at the time of construction. That system typically involves PVC piping that runs from the foundation to the roof and vents radon into the air. *
Radon suspected
*It’s impossible to say with certainty whether radon is responsible for any individual case of lung cancer, but Dan Hylland of Rochester suspects it played a role in his dad’s cancer. *
*His dad, Gerhard, was considered a nonsmoker. But because he grew up in Iowa and lived in Rochester, both of which have high levels of radon, Mayo Clinic doctors suspected the radioactive gas as the culprit. His home in Rochester also tested high for radon. *
*Surgeons removed the cancer from his lung, and Gerhard was clean for about a year until doctors found a couple of tumors in his brain. Both have since been removed. *
*“He may be in the clear, but we really don’t know,” Hylland said. *
*Hylland said he decided to research radon after his dad’s bout with cancer. He learned that radon is the second-leading cause of cancer, and that Olmsted County has some of the highest levels of radon in the state. *
*Hylland also discovered that there were few places for homeowners to turn to mitigate radon levels. So he decided to start a company that provides radon testing and installs mitigation systems, called Athelon Enterprises LLC. *
*Hylland said he encountered different arguments from those opposed to mandated controls imposed on home builders. Some say the connection between radon and lung cancer hasn’t been proven. Others say the chances of getting cancer from radon are negligible. *
*“Even if it is 2 percent, is your father or mother worth the $300 that it would cost” to install the system, he said. *

Yes, I can see how blaming the radon boogie man, particularly when you can’t prove that it caused the particular malady in a particular person, would be good for your business.

The lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes is no different than the lung cancer caused by radon gas and one can’t prove that cigarette smoking causes any **particular **cancer in any particular person either. But smoking increases risk, just like radon does.