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Don’t Fear the Vapor

Hazards surround us every day. From sharing the road with my teenage son (best give him room) to the foods we eat (E. Coli with your romaine?), to the hands we shake (pre-COVID of course), everything has risks. Managing these risks is what allows us to focus on family, fun, and work (even if not always in that order). Environmental risk management is no different.

For the past two decades, vapor intrusion has been the exposure pathway of greatest concern with environmental contamination when compared to groundwater ingestion and soil exposure.  This is easy to understand. As direct groundwater ingestion in metropolitan and industrialized areas is increasingly less common given municipally managed drinking water.

Similarly, direct exposure to contaminated soils is an exposure pathway easily managed through removal and/or engineering controls. So, this leaves vapor intrusion as the exposure pathway with the greatest potential.

Don’t fear the vapor (queue Blue Oyster Cult soundtrack).

An always-changing vapor intrusion industry

The science of characterizing chemical vapor intrusion pathways continues to evolve. However, the science behind mitigating intrusion has been underway since the residential radon industry originated almost 40 years ago.

Today, this already mature industry continues to evolve. This is demonstrated by the national consensus standards promulgated by the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (AARST) through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

These standards are our guide as to the methods of radon and soil gas mitigation in single-family homes (SGM-SF-2017), multi-family buildings (RMS-MF-2018), large building/schools (RMS-LB-2018), and in New Construction (CC-1000-2018).  They give a great deal of detail on how to design, install, and verify performance of soil gas mitigation systems to protect the building occupants.

Don’t fear the vapor. 

Environmental risk and liability

A recent article regarding California updates to vapor intrusion screening criteria identified the criteria as impeding Brownfield redevelopment of contaminated areas. While potential vapor intrusion should be addressed in Brownfield redevelopment, it does not need to prevent it from happening.

Under the 2001 Brownfield Amendments to CERCLA, a bona fide protective purchaser (BFPP) is shielded from liability for cleaning up historical contamination. This makes Brownfield redevelopments financially feasible. The BFPP provision does require the purchaser to exercise appropriate care to limit continued human exposure.

Administrative controls on contaminated soil (soil management plan) and groundwater (usage restriction) are typical “due care” acts to protect exposure to these media. This is assuming significant off-site contamination migration has occurred.

So, this leaves the vapor inhalation exposure pathway. While mitigating vapor intrusion has financial implications, it generally pales in comparison to measures required to control off-site migration of groundwater or excavation/disposal of contaminated groundwater. This makes vapor intrusion the most manageable exposure pathway. 

Don’t fear the vapor. 

Better environmental risk management is possible

Once a vapor mitigation solution is in place, due care of operation, maintenance, and monitoring (OM&M) is needed to make sure the system continues to protect building occupants.

The Vapor Sentinel Remote Monitoring (VSRM) system greatly simplifies this OM&M by providing 24/7/365 monitoring of system performance. The monitoring system immediately notifies stakeholders of a problem with the system (e.g. building maintenance, building tenants, regulators, etc.). 

The VSRM user interface is customizable to each stakeholder. It provides only the information needed for their role. In addition to current performance data, the system also provides historical performance data. Historical data can be critical evidence for legally defending that occupants were, are, and will be continuously protected against exposure to hazardous soil gases.

With Vapor Sentinel Remote Monitoring keeping watch, there is no need to worry about risks of vapor intrusion. Vapor Sentinel makes it possible to move redevelopment projects forward while satisfying standard requirements and protecting building occupants around the clock.

Don’t fear the vapor.

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Contact our team of experts to learn more about Vapor Sentinel Remote Monitoring for your project sites.
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Erase the Lung Cancer Stigma

Protect Environmental partnered with Breath of Hope KY to participate in the WHO Health for All Film Festival, submitting our project to the “Better Health and Well-Being” category. Our project focuses on the story of radon and the lung cancer stigma. By raising awareness that anyone with lungs can get lung cancer and encouraging people to test for radon, we believe we are advocating for better health and well-being for all. We are excited to have been a part of this annual World Health Organization event alongside over 1200 other film submissions from 110 countries. 

Radon doesn’t discriminate.

Radon – a naturally occurring radioactive gas. Many people are not aware that they have been exposed to radon because it is not something you can see, taste, or smell. Without these warning signs, radon often goes undetected. The US Environmental Protection Agency reports that more than 21,000 Americans die each year from radon induced lung cancer.

As the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, radon should be tested for, and mitigated if needed, in order to prevent exposure. Unfortunately, not many people know that radon exists or that it is a serious environmental health concern.

Anyone with lungs can get lung cancer.

What is the lung cancer stigma? It is the generalization and assumption that someone who is diagnosed with lung cancer must have smoked or done something to have caused their diagnosis. The reality is that anyone with lungs can develop lung cancer, not just those who smoke. In fact, there are many different causes, radon being the second cause overall and the number one cause among non-smokers.

Erasing the lung cancer stigma will take greater awareness and education. The Better Health and Well-Being category made the most sense for our project as our goal is to raise awareness and, ultimately, reduce the number of radon-induced lung cancer incidents and deaths starting here in Kentucky and beyond.

Radon is a critical environmental health risk that demands continued recognition and improved understanding to protect people everywhere from exposure. With our film contribution, we want to educate the public and encourage action against radon gas in the places we live, work, and learn.

We worked with Lindi Campbell, Leah Phillips, and Chasity Harney of Breath of Hope Kentucky, who shared their stories in this project. All three women are lung cancer survivors and believe that radon exposure was the likely cause of their diagnoses. These women lived a healthy lifestyle, never smoked, and certainly never thought they would be diagnosed with this life-threatening disease. 

Take Action

Our message is simple. Anyone with lungs can get lung cancer and radon could be the cause. Unfortunately, lung cancer has been defined as a smoker’s disease. Consequently, this stigma perpetuates a lack of awareness and often prevents early detection among non-smokers. 

Naturally occurring radon gas can be found anywhere around the world. It is a worldwide environmental hazard that causes over 21,000 deaths here in the U.S. alone. Exposure to radon is preventable. Testing is the only way to know if elevated levels of radon are in the places you live, work, or learn. 

Take action against radon! Test your home.

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10 Working From Home Tips for Creating Healthy Indoor Air Quality

With more people than ever working from home during the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to talk about the quality of the air you’re breathing.

There are many benefits to working remotely, from lower operational costs of running a business to employees having more time to themselves since cutting out their commutes. The initial move to remote work out of necessity to keep people safe has now become a new normal way of life for many.

At the beginning of 2021, it is reported that 42% of the U.S. is now working from home after a year of shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost twice as many employees are working remotely at the start of 2021 compared to the beginning of 2020. Additionally, many businesses are making this change permanently. 

“The trend toward working from home has been slowly increasing over the past decade. But those numbers have shifted dramatically in 2020 due to the widespread changes caused by COVID-19,” said Dr. Goodarzi, Canada Research Chair for Radiation Exposure Disease. “We are currently analyzing the impact of this sudden change.”

Just like anything, there are pros and cons of working remotely. By first being aware of the risks, we can do our best to create healthy air quality where we live and work. You can take simple, preventative, actions to make sure your home office environment is healthy and safe.

7 Common Indoor Air Pollutants that can have Significant Health Risks:

  1. Mold
  2. Pollen and Allergens
  3. Low Ventilation Rates and Carbon Dioxide Concentrations
  4. Carbon Monoxide
  5. Asbestos and Lead-based Paint
  6. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s)
  7. Radon Gas Exposure

These hazardous pollutants and gases can be prevented or mitigated. With the correct tools, tips, and preventive measures you can create safe breathing air in your own home. The American Lung Association has shared some additional tips to know if your air is unhealthy. Establishing healthy indoor air quality at home is important to your overall health, especially for those of us working remotely.

10 tips to improve indoor air quality for a healthier home office environment:

  1. Thoroughly vacuum and clean your home once a week.
  2. Never smoke indoors. 
  3. Replace your furnace and air filter every 6 to 12 months.
  4. Use an air purifier.
  5. Invest in house plants for your workspace.
  6. Keep humidity levels under 50 percent to avoid mold growth.
  7. Open your windows when the weather is nice to create ventilation.
  8. Test for asbestos.
  9. Invest in a Carbon Monoxide detector.
  10. Test your home for radon gas.

When it comes to your health and safety when working from home, testing for radon is especially important. Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas that can be found at dangerous levels in your home. You would not know if your home has radon or not because it is odorless, colorless, and tasteless.

Consequently, that invisible radioactive gas may be accumulating at elevated levels in your home. This same gas is responsible for the deaths of more than 21,000 Americans every year. Also, it is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

This gas is naturally occurring, originating from the breakdown of uranium in the ground, and enters your home through cracks in the foundation or pipes. Radon damages your lungs when breathed and over time can mutate lung cells, resulting in lung cancer.  

The radon risk of working from home

Dr. Goodarzi and other radon researchers are predicting a 35% jump in residential radon exposure from March 2020 onwards.

Due to the current pandemic, people are spending much more time at home than in the past. Before the concern of the pandemic, most people were spending their days in the office or coming and going on the weekends.

If your home has elevated levels of radon, you are being exposed more often than you would if you were spending less time at home. It is as important as ever to test your home for radon to make sure your breathing air is healthy and safe.

If your radon test results come back elevated, install a radon mitigation system. The EPA recommends mitigating your home if the radon levels come back at 4.0pCi/L or above.  Learn more about radon and the symptoms of radon gas poisoning here.

Any type of home can have elevated radon levels, regardless of if you have a basement or not – walk-out basements, crawl spaces – any home or building can have radon. Levels can vary between homes in the same neighborhood, even homes right next to one another. Elevated radon levels have been detected in all 50 states. 

It is never too late to take action. As you continue to work from home, make sure to take care of your mental and physical health by improving your air quality. The damaging effects of exposure to radioactive radon are completely preventable.

During this new season, one of the simplest ways to make sure you are staying healthy and safe while working from home is to test your home for radon.  

Let’s get started – if you live in the Louisville or Lexington area of Kentucky, contact us to schedule your radon test today!

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Leah Phillips’ Lung Cancer Survivor Story

I have lived in Louisville, Kentucky most of my life. For the last 10 years, I made managing my health a priority. I never smoked a day in my life. I exercise most days. I eat right. I have a yearly physical, mammogram, blood work, wear sunscreen, and basically do my best to be as healthy as possible. I am a busy mom to 3 children and loving my life and, bam…I am hit with this most unlikely diagnosis.

My journey with lung cancer began like many other stories I have read…with a misdiagnosis. A persistent cough in October 2019 led to a chest x-ray and an eventual diagnosis of pneumonia.  After 2 rounds of antibiotics that were not effective, doctors ordered a chest CT scan and diagnosed me with Antibiotic Resistant Pneumonia.  I was admitted to the hospital with 2 IV antibiotics and a bronchoscopy was performed by a Pulmonologist and told the results were “normal.” After a 5 day stay, I was discharged from the hospital to recover.  

Time passed but my cough was still hanging around and I still just wasn’t feeling myself. I knew something wasn’t right.  Two weeks after returning home from the hospital I went back to my Primary Care Physician with worsening side pain. I received another chest X-ray, followed by a chest CT scan that showed lesions on my spine.  I was once again admitted to the hospital where I had a bone biopsy, a brain MRI, a chest tube inserted, and another bronchoscopy procedure.  

I spent 8 days in a hospital bed and test results revealed I had stage IV adenocarcinoma lung cancer. It was one week before Christmas and I was only 43 years old. To say this was a shock, is putting it lightly! Molecular testing results showed I have the EGFR exon 19 deletion mutation. EGFR mutations are most common in female nonsmokers with adenocarcinoma like me. The mutation can cause cells to grow out of control and lead to cancer as it did in my case.

On December 30th I started a targeted therapy drug called Tagrisso known to show successful results in slowing down, reversing, and even eliminating some of the cancer due to this mutation. It is not a cure, as there is currently no cure for stage 4 lung cancer, but it is the best line of treatment for my type of mutation and I am fortunate to have access to this line of targeted treatment. It is not without its share of side effects that are sometimes challenging to deal with, but I know this little pill I take every day is saving my life. However, it is a constant reminder that I have cancer.

Since January 2, 2020, I have been traveling back and forth between my Oncologist in Louisville and Oncologist Dr. Horn at Vanderbilt who is an expert in the type of cancer I have.

The second leading cause of lung cancer is exposure to radon gas and Dr. Horn believes this is most likely the cause of my lung cancer since I have never smoked. Looking back, we did have slightly elevated radon at our house we moved out of 3 years prior to my diagnosis, but I cannot pinpoint any other times I may have been exposed. It is important that people understand the danger of this radioactive gas and have their homes tested for radon. I never in a million years would have expected to receive this diagnosis and if I can help others understand that anyone can get lung cancer, I want to be able to generate that awareness with my story.

I am fighting, I am remaining positive, and I am living my best life one day at a time.

Leah is a part of the organization, Breath of Hope KY. Learn more about this organization.

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Chasity Harney’s Lung Cancer Survivor Story

I was born and raised in Kentucky where I currently live with my husband and our three children.  Never in a million years would I have believed I could get lung cancer because there is no history of the disease in my family and I have never smoked.

One day, while teaching at my school, I had a sharp pain in my chest radiating around to my back that would not go away. I was concerned enough to see my doctor the next day and was relieved when she made the decision to order a CT scan. Thankfully, that one occurrence alarmed me enough to see my doctor right away because I had not experienced any other symptoms and I never felt that original pain again.

As a result of the images on the chest scan and some additional tests, on October 9, 2018, I was diagnosed with stage 3c adenocarcinoma NSCLC just two weeks shy of my 41st birthday. I had 2 tumors in my upper left lobe and 11 lymph nodes that were cancerous.  Initially, I felt numb when we first heard this news. I hurt for my husband and my 3 children and experienced lots of fear not knowing what my future would look like.

Shortly after my diagnosis, we received the news that I tested positive for the EGFR mutation. I soon learned that having this mutation made me a candidate for targeted therapy. I had six weeks of chemo, 30 rounds of radiation, a lobectomy to remove the upper lobe of my left lung, a wedge resection to remove a nodule in the bottom left lobe, 5 pinpoint radiation treatments on my left and right lung, and currently, I am on the targeted therapy pill Tagrisso (80) mg. Throughout this process, I experienced what I would describe as a feeling similar to grief.  I mourned for my old life…before the cancer. As a family, we were lost.

Over time as I healed from the initial surgery and have had a chance to process our new reality, I realized I wanted to do more to raise awareness about this disease. I hope to help others understand that lung cancer is not a smoker’s disease, it can happen to anyone, even if you have never smoked.  I also hope by sharing my story people who read this will listen to their body and seek medical attention when something doesn’t seem right. You never know when your body’s pain or discomfort is an underlying sign of something more serious.

Kentucky may rank # 1 in lung cancer cases and deaths, but don’t be so quick to assume it is because of smoking.  My story is proof that if you have lungs…you can get lung cancer. I can’t say for certain what caused the damage in my lungs to develop into cancer but after I was diagnosed, we had our home tested for radon. We made the decision to put in a mitigation system when the radon readings were 8.0 pCi/L, twice the measurement of what is considered a health risk.  I was also exposed to a lot of dust and particles in the air when the school I taught in for 17 years was torn down and the air of our new school was temporarily filled with the overflow of unclean air.

I would advise anyone who is newly diagnosed to try and stay calm and don’t panic. It’s important not to rush into any treatment before seeking a second or even a third opinion. I was eager to get treatment started so I initially did not get a second opinion. I first did chemo and radiation close to home then went to The James Center in Columbus Ohio to a lung specialist and thoracic surgeon. I am currently still being treated by those same doctors at The James Center in Columbus.  If I had to do it over, I believe I would have sought out a second opinion before rushing into treatment.

A cancer diagnosis is devastating. My whole entire family has learned never to take one day for granted. We live in the present, not looking at the past or future. God continues to give me strength and endurance daily to be the wife and mom I need to be.

Chasity is a part of the organization, Breath of Hope KY. Learn more about the organization.

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Lindi Campbell’s Lung Cancer Survivor Story

In December 2015, I was only 51 when a spot was discovered on the lower lobe of my right lung. I have never used tobacco products, was a very healthy eater and regular exerciser. The nodule was found initially on a routine x-ray by my Primary Care Physician. A CT scan, a PET scan, and numerous follow-up CT scans over a period of 18 months showed some growth, but the reason for the growth was still inconclusive. Lung cancer seemed out of the realm of possibility due to my health history.

When the nodule reached the size of 2.4 cm a biopsy was scheduled to determine if the spot was cancerous. Initially, much to my relief, the results came back showing no signs of cancer. We would later learn that biopsies do not always rule out cancer. After treating the growth in my lung over several months for a possible fungus with no success, I was advised to have it removed without delay and surgery was immediately scheduled within weeks.

The firm advice to proceed with surgery most likely is the key factor in catching it before it had spread. No one could fathom that it would be cancer. A wedge resection surgery was scheduled in December 2017 to remove the unidentified growth. However, during surgery, pathology revealed cancer.

A thoracotomy was performed immediately to remove two lobes of my right lung to ensure all of the cancer was gone. The final pathology report indicated two types of cancer, Adenocarcinoma and Squamous cell carcinoma. This rare form takes on a name of its own, Adenosquamous Carcinoma. According to the American Journal of Clinical Pathology, this type of cancer exists in 0.4% to 4% of cases. My cancer, although very rare, had not spread to the lymph nodes and was stage 1. My survival prognosis was considered to be very good. Unfortunately, only 16% of people will be diagnosed in the earliest stages like me, when the disease is most treatable.

After a year and a half of clean scans post-surgery, a few new spots began to appear in my left lung. We continued to follow the growth of these nodules until one in the lower portion of the lung had grown enough (8 mm) to warrant removal for further testing.  In May 2020 a wedge resection was scheduled to examine the growth. It too was cancer. Molecular testing of the tissue revealed I have a genetic mutation called EGFR exon 19 deletion that is driving the cancer in my lungs. I am now on a targeted therapy drug called Osemertinib to intercept the work of the mutation and help prevent future recurrences. I will be on this medicine until it stops working or until there is a better option. Our hope is the cancer does not ever return or spread outside of my lungs. I am very grateful for my health at this time and for the hope research and medicine provide lung cancer survivors, but there is still so much work to be done to increase survival statistics of this number one cancer killer.

Learn about Lindi’s organization, Breath of Hope KY.

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Protect Environmental Participates in Computing for COVID-19 Project

Protect Environmental cares about the health and safety of its community and has recently signed up to host a node to support the efforts of a parallel computing Coronavirus research initiative.

Rosetta@Home is a distributed computing project that engages community involvement by utilizing volunteered computer space to speed up and extend research being conducted on existing biomolecules, including coronavirus proteins, as well as designing new proteins. Rosetta’s Computing for COVID project supports the research necessary to create medicines and vaccines as potential cures for the coronavirus.

How it works: a computing grid uses distributed computer resources to reach a common goal. These computers work together by assigning certain tasks and projects to millions of different nodes hosted on thousands of different servers.

“In a project of this scale, there are millions of large servers hosting thousands of nodes each. We are hosting just a tiny node in a huge effort. This is the largest amount of multi-organizational computing effort that has ever been unleashed to solve a problem in history, and we are excited to be even a small part of it.”

– Kyle Hoylman, Managing Partner of Protect Environmental

The Institute for Protein Design: University of Washington’s Baker Lab actively utilizes volunteered nodes for seven key projects, which are believed to have an immediate impact on containing COVID-19. You can read more about these projects individually by following the links below or by visiting the Institute for Protein Design’s website: Coronavirus Response

Protect Environmental supports the University of Washington’s Baker Lab and the research they are doing to fight the coronavirus. By participating in the Computing for COVID project, we believe we are doing a small part to help our community press on toward discovering an effective solution.  

To learn how you can be a part of the Rosetta@Home project Computing for COVID, visit their websites, consider giving online toward their research efforts, and share about the work they are doing. When we all band together, each contributing even in a small way, the impossible can be made possible. 

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The Reaction to Coronavirus Exposure vs Radon Exposure

The coronavirus has significantly impacted the lives of Kentuckians over the past several months. Major events have been canceled. Schools have been closed. Business has come to a grinding halt. The terms ‘quarantine’ and ‘social-distancing’ have become common. We even receive daily updates from our governor regarding our ongoing response to this public health emergency. To be certain, the changes to our daily lives have been sudden and drastic, all caused by a silent killer – the coronavirus. 

The similarities between radon, a cancer-causing, radioactive gas found in hazardous concentrations in almost 50% of all Kentucky buildings, and the coronavirus are striking. Both involve public health. Both have taken the lives of hundreds of Kentuckians this year.  Both have created enormous economic burdens. Both are silent killers. And both can be prevented by avoiding exposure. The difference in how Kentucky has responded to the coronavirus versus how it has responded to radon is also striking, which begs to question, “What if Kentucky responded to radon like it’s responding to the coronavirus?”

If Kentucky responded to radon like it’s responding to the coronavirus, swift action would be taken by our policymakers to mitigate exposure to radon. Buildings where we learn, work, and play would be monitored to ensure occupants aren’t unknowingly being exposed to unsafe concentrations of radon gas. And when unsafe concentrations of radon are identified, a mitigation system would be installed on the building to effectively manage occupant exposure. Persons buying a home would be empowered to make an informed decision regarding radon in their new home through effective notification and disclosure policies. Newly constructed buildings would include a passive ventilation system for more efficient and economical management of radon intrusion and require testing prior to occupancy. The result of implementing common-sense radon policy would be healthier, safer buildings where occupants aren’t being unknowingly exposed to cancer-causing, radioactive radon gas.    

The response to the coronavirus in our state proves our policymakers are capable of acting quickly. Why haven’t these same policymakers reacted as quickly to the ongoing pandemic caused by radon? Exposure to radon claims the lives of approximately 500 Kentuckians every year. Losing a loved one to a preventable disease has a tragic impact on Kentucky families. The financial burden created by the nearly $200 million dollars in direct and indirect costs caused by radon-induced lung cancer each year is alarming. Yet, our policymakers continue to ignore the unnecessary deaths and financial burden caused by this terrible disease.    

To be certain, if Kentucky responded to radon like it’s responding to the coronavirus, the impact on preventing radon-induced lung cancer and the number of lives saved would be significant. Maybe the question we should be asking is, “Why isn’t Kentucky responding to radon like it’s responding to the coronavirus?”  

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Radon in Military Housing

U.S. Service members and their families living in housing owned and operated by the government are at risk for exposure to hazardous concentrations of cancer-causing, radioactive radon gas, as detailed in a recent report released by the Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The report concludes: If the DoD and the Services do not improve policies and procedures to identify, mitigate or minimize, monitor, disclose, and oversee health and safety hazards in GO‑GC military housing, the DoD and the Services will continue to risk the health and safety of Service members and their families. 

U.S. Service members and their families living in housing owned and operated by the government are at risk for exposure to hazardous concentrations of cancer-causing, radioactive radon gas, as detailed in a recent report released by the Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Inspector General (OIG).

Evaluation Background

Radon is a naturally occurring, odorless, colorless radioactive gas formed by the decay of uranium. Radon exists in varying amounts in all soils, rocks, and some groundwater supplies worldwide. Radon enters the lungs when inhaled and chronic exposure may lead to lung cancer. Exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers (second overall to smoking) and is responsible for more than 21,000 annual deaths in the United States. Radon poses a relatively low threat to human health outdoors; however, radon can accumulate to dangerous levels indoors. The presence of high levels of uranium in the soil or rock is not the sole reason for elevated indoor radon potential. Building design, building usage, building construction material, airflow, occupancy pattern, and the operation of the building’s heating, ventilation, and air‑conditioning system influence the accumulation of radon indoors. Testing for radon is the only way to determine if radon hazards are present in GO‑GC military housing.

Released on May 4, the report details the findings of the evaluation, which was conducted to determine if the DoD is effectively managing health and safety hazards, including radon, in GO-GC military housing. Currently, more than 38,000 GO-GC military housing units are owned, managed, or maintained by the DoD worldwide.

Government‑Owned and Government‑Controlled Military Family Housing
052820-DOD-OIG-Tables-01-1

Eight military installations containing approximately 15,525 (41 percent of total) GO-GC housing units were included in the evaluation:

  • U.S. Army Garrison (USAG) Humphreys, Republic of Korea
  • USAG Wiesbaden, Germany
  • Naval Station (NAVSTA) Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
  • Commander Fleet Activities (CFA) Yokosuka, Japan
  • Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, Japan
  • Kadena Air Base (AB), Japan
  • Spangdahlem AB, Germany
  • Wright‑Patterson Air Force Base (AFB), Dayton, Ohio

The evaluation included:

  • A review of records, health and safety hazard management plans, policies and procedures, and health and safety hazard assessment and testing results to determine whether installation officials identified potential hazards and were implementing the requirements for the management of health and safety hazards in GO‑GC military housing.
  • Interviews with installation officials from housing, operations and maintenance, engineering, environmental, fire, safety, and health departments to determine their knowledge of applicable health and safety management requirements and their efforts to manage health and safety hazards in GO‑GC military housing.
  • A visual assessment of a selection of 187 GO‑GC military housing units to determine if health and safety hazards were effectively managed in GO‑GC military housing.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 assigns regulatory and program implementation responsibilities to federal agencies, such as the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to control substances determined to cause unreasonable risk to public health or the environment. The TSCA currently covers the control of highly toxic substances, including radon. For purposes of the evaluation, the HUD’s Healthy Homes Program Manual for best practices and techniques to achieve a healthy home was utilized. Based on the OIG’s review of health and safety hazards described in the manual and observations from previous DoD OIG reports, the management of nine potential health and safety hazards, including radon, were included in the evaluation.

Evaluation Findings for Radon

At each of the eight military installations evaluated, systemic deficiencies in the management of health and safety hazards in GO-GC military housing were identified. Specific to radon, the following findings were noted:

  • Installation Officials Did Not Establish a Radon Assessment and Mitigation Program – the evaluation determined that installation officials at USAG Humphreys, USAG Wiesbaden, and NAVSTA Guantanamo Bay did not establish a radon assessment and mitigation program for GO‑GC military housing. The report summarizes: Installation officials at USAG Humphreys, USAG Wiesbaden, and NAVSTA Guantanamo Bay could not determine the extent that radon hazards were present in GO‑GC military housing. Without establishing a radon assessment and mitigation program, installation officials cannot manage radon hazards, and residents may have been exposed to radon hazards in GO‑GC military housing.
  • Installation Officials Established a Radon Assessment and Mitigation Program but Did Not Manage Radon Hazards – the evaluation determined that installation officials at CFA Yokosuka, MCAS Iwakuni, Spangdahlem AB, and Kadena AB were not evaluating hazards, controlling hazards, or informing residents of the presence of radon. The report summarizes: Installation officials are unable to identify the extent that radon hazards were present in GO‑GC military housing because installation officials did not evaluate and control radon hazards. Therefore, residents may have been exposed to radon hazards in GO‑GC military housing. Furthermore, without installation officials informing residents of radon hazards, residents may not be aware of the potential health effects of radon exposure.
Radon Hazard Management Program Summary by Installation

Report Recommendations for Radon

In response to the evaluation findings, the following recommendations were made in the report:
  • Establish or revise appropriate DoD policies to address health and safety hazards, including radon, in military housing to manage health, safety, and environmental risks to acceptable levels for military housing residents.
  • Revise Army Regulation 420‑1, Chief of Naval Operations Instruction 5009.1, Marine Corps Order 11000.22, Air Force Instruction 32‑6001, and all other housing‑related policies to align with recommended DoD policy revisions.
  • Develop oversight policies and procedures to assess the management of health and safety hazards in GO‑GC military housing.
  • Direct installation officials to correct the specific radon health and safety hazard management deficiencies discussed in the report.

Our Analysis

Radon is the most significant environmental health risk present in GO-GC military housing. Unfortunately, installation officials could not determine the extent that radon hazards were present in GO-GC military housing at seven of the eight installations included in the evaluation, and residents may have been exposed to hazardous radon concentrations in these GO-GC military housing units.

As stated in the report, radon assessments were conducted in the 1990s at military installations worldwide by the Services in response to the TSCA requirement. Most likely, these assessments have never been updated, reinforcing the position that installation officials cannot determine the extent of radon hazards present today in GO-GC military housing, and residents may be exposed to hazardous radon concentrations in GO-GC military housing units. Because geological conditions change and renovations may be conducted that may significantly modify the building envelope and mechanical systems, the current consensus radon standards recommended by the EPA specify all buildings be assessed for radon a minimum of one time every five years (every two years in buildings under active mitigation).

The guidance contained within the Army policy (AR 420‑1), the Navy policy (OPNAVINST 5090.1D, also covering Marine Corps installations), and the Air Force policy (AFI 48‑148) requires the implementation of a radon assessment and mitigation program. However, this guidance appears to be outdated or fails to incorporate requirements for radon contractors working on GO-GC military housing to be certified through a proficiency program recognized by the EPA or follow current consensus radon standards.  

In contrast, Section 3061 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 applies to privatized military housing units, which constitute more than 99 percent of military housing in the continental United States. This Act requires an ongoing radon assessment and mitigation program to be implemented for all privatized military housing that includes radon measurement and mitigation activities be conducted by a radon contractor certified by a proficiency program recognized by the EPA following the consensus radon standards recommended by the agency.

In our opinion, adoption of the same requirements being utilized for privatized military housing should also be adopted for GO-GC military housing. After all, why shouldn’t Service members and their families living in GO-GC military housing be provided with the same protection against cancer-causing, radioactive radon as those living in privatized military housing?     

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Radon and the Symptoms of Radon Gas Poisoning

Many parts of the country are at high risk for exposure to radon. In Kentucky and Southern Indiana, almost 50% of all buildings contain radon concentrations above the US EPA action level of 4.0 pCi/L. This risk is even higher in Louisville and Lexington, where the percentage of buildings with a radon problem can exceed 65% in certain areas! So, what is radon gas and why should you care?

What is radon gas?

Radon is a naturally occurring, cancer-causing, radioactive gas that you can’t see, smell, or taste. The gas derives from the breakdown of uranium and seeps up through the ground, diffusing into the air. In a few areas of the country, radon is contained in ground water, where it off-gasses into the air when the water is used. Radon gas usually exists in relatively low concentrations in outdoor air, averaging 0.4 pCi/L. However, when radon intrudes into buildings and becomes trapped in higher concentrations, significant health risks arise.

According to the US EPA, exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers (second overall to smoking) and is responsible for more than 21,000 annual deaths in the United States. Read on for more about the health risks associated with radon gas and how to protect you and your loved ones from this silent killer.

Know-Your-Radon-Number
Understand your risk of radon exposure and radon gas poisoning.

How are you exposed to radon gas?

Most commonly, radon intrudes into buildings through gaps, cracks, and other pathways. In a small percentage of buildings, the gas can also be released from a private water source or emanate from building materials. Radon concentrations can also be higher in buildings that are more energy efficient – well-insulated, tightly-sealed buildings decrease the number of air changes per hour, which can increase exposure to radon.

Hazardous concentrations of radon can be found in all buildings, such as your home, your place of work, or even the school your children attend. According to the US EPA, about 1 in 15 buildings contain hazardous concentrations of radon gas. However, in some parts of our country, 50% or more of buildings have a radon problem!  

How-Radon-Enters-You-Home
How Radon Enters Your Home.

How does radon gas cause lung cancer?

Radon gas decays quickly, releasing tiny radioactive particles. When these particles are inhaled, they can damage the cells that line your lungs. Long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer. If you smoke, your risk is even greater. An increased risk of leukemia associated with radon exposure in adults and children has also been suggested.

Due to lung shape and size differences, children have higher estimated radiation doses than adults. Children also have breathing rates faster than those of adults. Risk of lung cancer in children resulting from exposure to radon may be almost two times greater than the risk to adults exposed to the same amount of radon. Sadly, an estimated 70,000 classrooms contain hazardous radon concentrations because most schools and childcare facilities aren’t required to test for radon gas.

Radon-Effects-Lung-Cancer
Radon can be found at elevated levels in the air you breathe. Radon is a radioactive gas that damages the tissue in your lungs. Damaged lung tissue can mutate and develop into lung cancer.

What are the symptoms of radon gas poisoning?

Unlike with other gases like carbon monoxide, symptoms of radon poisoning won’t show up right away. Exposure to radon gas is chronic, meaning health problems from exposure, such as lung cancer, show up after many years.

Early signs of lung cancer may include a nagging cough, shortness of breath, or wheezing. Coughing up blood or chest pain, as well as loss of appetite, weight loss, and fatigue are other symptoms association with lung cancer.

What do I do if I have radon gas poisoning symptoms?

Specific medical testing to determine if you have been exposed to hazardous concentrations of radon gas don’t exist. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of lung  cancer, talk with your doctor about whether you should be tested to check for lung cancer. If you smoke – stop!

How can I protect myself and my family from radon gas?

Testing where you live or work is easy and cost-effective. If you have children attending school, request the building where they learn be tested. If you find you have a radon problem, take steps to have the building mitigated to control your exposure to radon gas.

Ensure that all testing and mitigation is done by a qualified professional using the national consensus standards. Better yet, let the professionals at Protect Environmental provide you with peace of mind protection in knowing that you and your family are safe from the silent killer – radon gas.

Radon-Testing-1
A Protect Professional comes to your home and conducts a Radon test.
Radon-Testing-2
We evaluate your test results and work with you to develop the best course of action for YOUR home. The EPA recommends mitigation when radon levels are at 4.0 pCi/L or higher.
Radon-Testing-Graphic-3
If you choose to mitigate, a Protect Professional comes to your home to install the radon mitigation system. Once the system is installed, we test again to ensure that the mitigation system is working properly to reduce the radon levels in your home.

How can I protect myself and my family from radon gas?

Exposure to radon gas presents a significant health concern. The only way to know if you and your family are at risk is to test the buildings where you live, work, or learn. Testing is easy and cost-effective. If you have a radon problem, affordable options for mitigating your exposure exist. You should always use a qualified professional for testing and mitigation.   

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National Radon Action Month

A call to action.

The colorless, odorless, tasteless, radioactive radon gas that may be in your home, has overstayed its welcome. 700 Kentuckians are diagnosed with radon-induced lung cancer every year.

January is National Radon Action Month (NRAM) and all month long we will be sharing facts about what radon is, why testing is important, and how mitigation works to reduce the levels in your home.

Our social media pages will be sharing staggering statistics about the cancer-causing gas, so follow along with us!

National Radon Action Month not only reminds all of us of just how dangerous the radioactive gas is, but it also highlights the importance of testing our homes.

Kick radon out.

It is a naturally occurring gas that is emitted from the breakdown of Uranium metal underground. It is dangerous to be breathing in at home.

When breathed, it damages the lungs and can lead to lung cancer. Although, the process to reduce levels in the home is relatively simple, straightforward, and inexpensive.

If you have not tested your home, January is the best time to do so! The levels in your home are more concentrated in the winter when doors and windows stay shut against the cold.

Experiencing the health risks of radon is completely preventable.

During the month of January, the Kentucky Radon Coalition is offering free test kits to all Kentucky residents. And when test kits aren’t offered for free, the process is relatively inexpensive, quick, and simple. There are a couple of ways to test.

Disposable charcoal tests, like the one pictured here, hang undisturbed for 3 days before you mail them off to the lab.

Team up with Team Green

Here at Protect Environmental, we use a device called a CRM to conduct an electronic test. We work with you to determine the best course of action for your home for your peace of mind. Schedule an appointment with one of our certified professionals to know if your home is at risk.

Know your number and know your risk. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends mitigating a home when radon levels are tested at a level of 4.0 pCi/L of air. The only way to know if your home has elevated levels is to test. Contact us to schedule an appointment or go to freeradontestkit.com to register for a free test today.

Be a part of the conversation

Testing for radon in homes is the focus of National Radon Action Month, although it does not end there. Spreading awareness is one of the greatest hurdles when it comes to protecting Kentuckians and the greater United States from the radioactive gas.

You can help by sharing this post with your friends and family! Their homes could be at risk, too.

Radon is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that causes damage to our lungs when breathed. Test your home and tell your loved ones to do the same.

And don’t forget! You can receive a free radon test kit through the Kentucky Radon Coalition through January 31st.

January is National Radon Action Month. Take action to protect your family and yourself from the harmful effects of exposure to radioactive gas.