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Radon is a natural radioactive gas caused by the breakdown of uranium in soil. It can enter into homes through cracks and gaps that may not be visible. The construction and geographic location of a home can affect the amount of radon that is present inside. In fact, two homes next door to one another could have very different levels of radon inside. It is important to measure a home’s level of radon because it poses a serious health risk, especially at elevated levels.

Over time, exposure to elevated levels of radon can cause lung cancer. In fact, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smoking adults, claiming more than 20,000 lives annually in the United States alone. The good news is, if a home has a high level of radon, it can be mitigated, usually at low cost and in a short amount of time. For more in-depth information on radon, and radon mitigation methods, visit EPA’s Radon Website.

Finding Solutions to Improve Radon Testing in Tribes

Peter Diethrich, GAP Manager of Environmental Programs of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

As the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, radon has become a serious issue for many tribal communities, including the Southern Ute Indian Tribe of Colorado. Peter Diethrich is the tribe's General Assistance Program — GAP — Manager of Environmental Programs; the goal of the GAP is to assist tribes in developing the capacity to plan and establish environmental protection programs and to develop and implement solid and hazardous waste programs in accordance with their individual needs. Once the Southern Ute Tribe developed an efficient solid waste program, Peter was directed by his EPA grant manager to alter the program to include IAQ with an emphasis on radon.

Peter has taken on radon and faced several challenges in terms of testing — mainly due to location. Situated in the Southwest region of Colorado, many Southern Ute families live in remote areas. Use of short-term carbon tests for radon proved to be difficult due to the time-frame necessary to ship to the lab — typically two to three days. Because of the time and distance, many of the test kits would return with invalid results.

To mediate this challenge, Peter purchased two continuous radon monitoring devices through GAP funding. These tests generate results on the spot. Once Peter visits a tribal home, he can use this tool to measure the concentration of radon in the home by the hour. But Peter's job isn't done after he leaves the homes he tests. By posting advertisements in newspapers and e-newsletters, Peter is able to promote radon testing in the tribe. This strategy was especially useful during National Radon Action Month — NRAM — in January. During NRAM, Peter placed ads in the Tribal Housing and Bureau of Indian Affairs newsletters, which prompted an increase in testing. Another effective method is through word of mouth — tribal members have encouraged their friends and family to test their homes once they understand the importance and ease of testing. This form of outreach has been a great way to increase and spread awareness on the health risk associated with radon.

To learn more about Peter's work, contact him at: pdieth@southern-utee.nsn.us.

EPA Radon Resources

You can order EPA publications free of charge from EPA's National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP), visit their Website at www.epa.gov/nscep, or call 1-800-490-9198.

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Have you planned a successful and sustainable community program? If so, we would like to know. Please send us an e-mail at iaqtribal@epa.gov describing the program, and that program could be highlighted here. We will follow up with the program directly to gather more information and permission to use their story.

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