Radon poisonings raise awareness


February 25th, 2016

More than 20,000 people die of lung cancer in the U.S. each year. (Photo Courtesy Wiki Commons)

More than 20,000 people die of lung cancer in the U.S. each year. (Photo Courtesy Wiki Commons)


Omaha, NE – What would you do to combat a poisonous gas entering your home? One you can’t see, smell or taste? Unfortunately, this is a question many Nebraskans need to answer.

Released into the air as naturally occurring uranium in the soil breaks down, radon gas can leak into homes and cause lung cancer. More than 20,000 people die of lung cancer in the U.S. each year.

Dr. Susanna Von Essen is professor of internal medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.  She says for many people the body detects the cancer causing cells and gets rid of them. But for some that ‘cell-policing’ process is not effective, and lung cancer can begin to grow.

“This is a very, very serious disease. Often it’s not detected until it’s advanced and at a point where we can’t do so much for the patient.”

Radon poisoning has a similar effect on the body as lead poisoning.

“You breathe the radon gas and the radon gas breaks down into what we call radon daughters (decayed radon) which are really the bio-active dangerous substances. They in turn bind to the DNA in your lung cells and change those cells.”

Laurie Staiert says radon gave her husband cancer.

“My husband was diagnosed with lung cancer, stage four, had never smoked. He was admitted to the hospital in April and he died on May 12. So four weeks and five days after he was diagnosed, he died.”

Staiert said initially she had no idea what had caused her husband’s lung cancer. A friend suggested getting her home tested for radon gas. So she called up Thrasher Basement and they performed a test. It turned out her home had very high levels of radon gas.

“He had always been a very strong, active and vibrant person. To see him just to go downhill so fast and become so weak – it just it was very difficult for the entire family to watch.”

Dave Link is the Communications specialist for Thrasher. He says a simple system, called a radon mitigation unit, can pump radon out of a house. Thrasher has worked in 60,000 homes throughout Nebraska and Iowa since 1975.

“We install a system that helps to pull the radon from underneath your home and vent it up above the roof line before it ever has a chance to seep up through your floor and through your foundation,” Link said.

Radon is measured by what are called ‘picocuries’ of radon gas per liter of air. A rate of 1 Picocurie per liter (pCi/l) equates to smoking about 2.5 cigarettes a day. Link says Western Nebraska has some of the highest radon rates in the entire country, nearing upwards of 4 pCi/l. Link says the amount of radon in the air can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood or even house to house.

“Our guys take it very seriously we do feel like we’re doing a lot of good for families and for the community as a whole by protecting them. The systems that we install, we stand behind them and we know that we’re going to make sure that they keep running for years to come to continue to protect people.”

The cost of mitigation units can vary widely, depending on how big your home is and how much gas is detected.

Staiert said her family has made a big effort to let people know about the dangers of radon gas.

“As a homeowner, getting the mitigation system is just very easy and simple.”

And it could save a life.

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