Both of my parents died of lung cancer. Both were smokers. My mom was only 47 when she died, and my dad had quit smoking some 25 years before being diagnosed.
Smoking played a role in both of their deaths — their oncologists said so. But there’s something odd about how one of them died so young and the other died so many years after kicking the habit.
So it wasn’t a complete surprise when my dad’s second wife learned that the home they’d been sharing in Illinois for more than a decade had radon levels four times the recommended maximum limit. I’d long had a nagging feeling that the invisible, odorless gas might have played a part in one or both of my parents’ deaths.
January is Radon Awareness Month. In my humble opinion, there are too many unnecessary awareness days, weeks and months. This one is not one of those.
Radon occurs naturally when uranium and thorium decay in the soil. It’s in the atmosphere around us, but at safe levels typically well below 1 picocurie per liter (pCi/L). In high doses — over 4 pCi/L — it’s a known carcinogen, and the EPA estimates that it kills 21,000 people each year. About 2,900 of those deaths occur among people who never smoked, making it the No. 1 killer of nonsmokers who die of lung cancer.
Scientists in the Czech Republic linked radon to lung cancer during the 1950s, when they realized that nonsmoking uranium miners were getting lung cancer at unusually high rates.
The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that some geographic areas have higher average indoor radon levels than others. Much of Kansas City and surrounding counties fall into that dangerously high category of 2-4 pCi/L. That doesn’t mean every home has high levels, just that a lot of them do.
You can find out levels in your home using a simple radon test kit.
Missouri residents can register for a free radon testing kit at health.mo.gov/living/environment/radon. Kansas residents can purchase inexpensive kits at most Kansas State extension offices, listed at ksre.k-state.edu/about/stateandareamaps.html. You can also purchase kits online and at some hardware stores. They’re simple to use.
If levels in your home are higher than 4 pCi/L, you should have a professional install a mitigation system. They typically run $700 to $1,200.
This is especially important for smokers. I don’t have proof that radon contributed to the deaths of either of my parents. But studies have shown that smokers exposed to high levels of radon over a lifetime run a far greater risk of dying of lung cancer than smokers not exposed to high levels of radon, and that it kills more people than car accidents each year.
And that’s a risk not worth taking.
Johnson County Home & Garden Show
If you’re getting ready to remodel your home or overhaul your garden come spring, then you’ll want to head to the Overland Park Convention Center next weekend for the Johnson County Home and Garden Show.
This year’s event — 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday — will feature more than 300 area vendors, selling services and products for every part of the home, ranging from the garden and patio to the kitchen, bathroom and dark, hard-to-reach corners of closets.
A main stage will feature live cooking demonstrations and home improvement presentations from local and national celebrities including Matt Muenster, host of HGTV’s “Bath Crashers,” Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge, aka “The Fabulous Beekman Boys” on the Cooking Channel, and Karen Rominger and Mina Starsiak, from HGTV’s “Two Chicks and a Hammer.”
The Water Garden Society of Greater Kansas City will, once again, build a freestanding water garden made with natural rock features and offer creative and ecological tips for transforming your backyard into a relaxing escape.
Advance tickets are $8 at johnsoncountyhomeshow.com or $10 at the door. Active and retired military, police and fire personnel will get free admission on Friday, Hero Day, with valid ID.