WATERLOO, IL—Gloria Linnertz devotes her time, energy and resources so others will not have to walk in her shoes. In December, 2005, Gloria’s husband Joe was diagnosed with radon-induced lung cancer. He died six weeks later.
“It’s such a sinking feeling in your heart,” Gloria says, “when you feel that you could have done something…if you had just known. This could have easily been prevented…very easily.”
Gloria is on a lifesaving mission. She serves as vice president of CanSAR, an acronym for Cancer Survivors Against Radon, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization serving the public and the lung cancer community. CanSAR provides a free radon test kit to anyone diagnosed with lung cancer. The organization’s mission is focused on increasing radon awareness, radon testing and mitigation of homes that have high levels of radon.
Prior to her husband’s diagnosis, Gloria knew little—if anything—about radon.
“We asked the oncologist on our second visit what could have caused the lung cancer,” said Gloria. “He said smoking and radon gas. Joe hadn’t smoked in 27 years. We didn’t know what radon gas was.
“One month—to the very day that Joe died—I had the morning news on. I heard the word ‘radon’ mentioned again. I thought to myself, that’s what the doctor said.”
She bought a test kit and discovered they had been living with high radon levels for 18 years.
Nearly 1 out of 15 homes in the U.S. is estimated to have elevated radon levels, accord ing to the Environmental Protection Agency. Approximately 21,000 Americans will die this year from radon-induced lung cancer, according to the EPA. In Illinois, officials estimate that radon will claim the lives of 1,160 residents this year.
Immediately after discovering hazardous levels in her home, Gloria diligently began researching radon. Now she advises anyone who will listen about the danger of radon.
“Our purpose is to educate everyone,” she says “… legislators, physicians, business people, insurance people, real estate people, the general public, medical personnel, everyone…about the danger of living with high levels of radon. We want to help prevent future deaths from radon-induced lung cancer.”
Radon Awareness Act
Joe died in February, 2006. By April, Gloria had met with state Representative Dan Reitz (D-116) to discuss legislation that would potentially save lives by warning others about radon.
“We’ve got to have a law that requires radon testing and fixing—at the point of sale,” she told him.
Almost immediately, Rep. Reitz introduced a resolution (HR 1288) urging all schools to test buildings for radon, home owners to test for radon and banks to give low interest loans for people to mitigate their homes. Even though a resolution does not have the authority of a law, the resolution was effective in instructing, encouraging and supporting radon awareness.
Also, Gloria was a driving force behind the Radon Awareness Act (Public Act 95-0210). She sent emails, made phone calls and wrote letters educating legislators about radon. She had support from the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (AARST), a nonprofit association dedicated to excellence in radon measurement, mitigation and education.
The Radon Awareness Act, which passed unanimously in both the Illinois House and Senate, requires home sellers to provide buyers with the following:
(1) Disclosure of known elevated radon levels in the home;
(2) A state-developed pamphlet on radon testing; and,
(3) A general warning statement recommending radon testing prior to all home purchases.
The warning given to home buyers urges everyone to test their home for radon, a Class A carcinogen, before taking occupancy. (See Radon Testing Guidelines for Real Estate Transactions.)
The Act has been measurably effective.
“It’s been very successful,” says Gloria. “Previous to this being passed, 8 percent of new homebuyers had their homes tested for radon.” Point-of-sale home radon testing soared to 25 percent during the first year of enactment.
Additional radon legislation also has been enacted in Illinois. One makes recommendations regarding radon testing of all schools and new school construction that include radon-resistant techniques. Another addresses claims and capabilities of radon testing devices. The third establishes a radon-resistant building codes task force that reports to the governor of the state.
About the radon test, results and mitig
Test…it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3
The EPA recommends using qualified radon mitigation contractors because lowering high radon levels requires specific technical knowledge and special skills. Without the proper equipment or technical knowledge, do-it-yourself homeowners could actually increase the radon level or create other potential hazards and additional costs. However, for those who decide to do the work themselves, information and technical guidance is available from the EPA. (See www.epa.gov/radon/pubs ).
1) Buy a radon test kit at your local home improvement store and follow the easy instructions.
2) Depending on the lab results sent to you, do one of the following:
· If the second reading is less than 2 pCi/L, be thankful. Share your knowledge about radon with those you care about.
· If the reading is greater than 2 pCi/L, retest. If the second test confirms a hazardous radon level, go to step 3.
3) Contact a certified radon professional to mitigate the home.
Gloria purchased her first radon test kit at a nearby hardware store for $17.95. Included in the cost was the charcoal test, shipping costs, lab analysis and the lab report sent to her. When the test indicated high radon level in her home, the state of Illinois sent her a second test—free of charge—to confirm the first test result.
The amount of radon in the air is measured in pico curies per liter of air, or pCi/L. The EPA recommends mitigation for a measurement greater than 4 pCi/L. Gloria’s first radon test indicated her home’s radon level was 11.2 pCi/L.
“I sent the first test by regular mail,” she says. “Some of the radioactive particles could have evaporated between the time I sent it off and the time it got there. The second test I sent by UPS. It got there very quickly. The second test came back at 17.6 pCi/L.
“So we had lived in our home with over four times the EPA action level and had no idea about it,” she says. “That’s why it’s so important for people to test their home.”
The EPA recommends taking a second short-term test immediately, if an initial short-term test result is greater than 8 pCi/L. If the second test indicates a radon level 4 pCi/L or greater, the EPA recommends mitigation of the home.
Recently, the World Health Organization revised the actionable level. “The World Health Organization advises that if your home is between 2 and 4 pico curies per liter, then it should be mitigated,” Gloria adds.
A short-term radon test remains in the home less than a week. However, a long-term radon test, which remains in the home for more than 90 days, may provide more accurate year-round average radon levels.
Another option is to hire a professional to conduct the radon test. Results are fast and accurate, although the process is more expensive than a test kit. A professional comes to the home and leaves electronic equipment for approximately three days. The cost varies, but may range between $150 and $200, according to Gloria.
The cost and mitigation process varies according to the size of the home, type of construction, and the area of the country and what is involved in setting up the mitigation system. According to the EPA, the cost of fixing a home generally ranges between $800 and $2,500, with an average cost of $1,200.
Gloria paid less than $1,000 to have her small home mitigated. It took about half a day for the professional to mitigate her home. Larger homes require more materials and time to mitigate. When people ask Gloria about the cost of mitigating, she likes to quote her friend who says, “It's cheaper than treating lung cancer...and less painful.”
Also, new homes can be built with radon-controlled features, according to Appendix F of the International Residential Building Code. Homes built with radon-resistant techniques have a radon passage system installed. The cost of including this feature in new construction is significantly less than mitigating a home after a problem has been discovered. More importantly, the radon-resistant home also helps prevent the deadly gas from entering the home in the first place.
AARST was instrumental in forming CanSAR. Initially, the nonprofit was created to share stories about people diagnosed with radon-induced lung cancer and to provide free radon test kits. In 2006, Gloria was asked to write a story about Joe. In January, 2010, the former organization dissolved and reorganized. CanSAR received its IRS letter of determination in July 2010, qualifying its tax-exempt status.
For more about how to get involved, see LiveLung or www.CanSAR.org.
Watch informative video about radon:
Breathing Easier: An Informational Radon Video for Physicians
By the time Gloria learned about the danger of radon, it was too late to save Joe. Nevertheless, she is committed to elevating radon awareness for everyone—especially those diagnosed with lung cancer. Not only could a radon test save their lives, it could also save their loved ones living in the home.
Upon request, CanSAR will send a free test kit to anyone diagnosed with lung cancer. Also, others who makes a $25 donation will receive a radon t-shirt and a home radon test kit.
Gloria wants everyone to know about radon. She hopes no one has to suffer through the same grief and loss that she experienced due to her lack of knowledge. “Most people in our nation have no idea what radon is…what it can do…that it is a killer,” says Gloria. “Test your home,” she advises. “Then share information about radon with other people.”
—by Dusty Donaldson