January is National Radon Action Month. Bob Stilwell, primary radon contact for the State of Maine since November 1990, answered some questions about radon and the health risks associated with it.
Why is radon an important public health issue?
Radon is a proven human carcinogen, recognized by the U.S. EPA and U.S. Surgeon General as the number two cause of lung cancer overall and the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. The World Health Organization and International Atomic Energy Agency recognize radon as a serious radiation hazard that causes lung cancer and are taking steps to assist member nations in developing policies and programs to reduce radon exposure.
What are the most important things you do in your role as State Radon Coordinator?
1. Provide technical assistance and training to the radon industry in Maine, so the services they provide are durable and effective at reducing radon exposure to Maine residents.
2. Apply for and manage Federal grants every year that allow the radon effort in Maine to continue. All Maine state radon work has been funded by federal grants since 1990.
What do you wish everybody knew about radon?
I wish everyone knew that the “action level” of 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/l) for radon is not a “safe” or “acceptable” level. The action level for radon was set in the 1970s based on the ability of technology at that time to reduce radon levels in buildings. At that time, technology could reduce radon to below 4 pCi/l in any building. If radon were treated like all other proven human carcinogens, with the “action” level set based on cancer risk instead of on 1970s mitigation technology, the “action” level would be less than one pCi/l.