Waiting to exhale: Radon cancer rates in the Sierra Nevada
Exposure to radon in the home is responsible for an estimated 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In South Lake Tahoe, more than half of the homes contain toxic levels of the colorless, odorless and tasteless gas.
The dangers and causes of radon in our region are well known. Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. It is also naturally occurring throughout our area due to the granite that dominates our landscape.
The school district on the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to address the elevated levels of radon in an elementary school at the demand of parents.
Much has been written about the dangers of local levels of radon, but the actual, measurable effects of radon in our local environment have gone unreported.
It is also unknown how many people in the region have been diagnosed with, or have died from, radon-related cancer.
Are there higher lung cancer rates in El Dorado and Douglas counties, or is it the same as other areas that have safe levels of radon?
For my California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship, I'll be examining death certificates and the California Cancer Registry and interviewing doctors, patients and surviving family members to put a face on the effects of radon in our environment.
If the lung cancer rates are in line with other areas that have safe levels of radon, it calls into question the companies that are making money off radon testing kits and removing the gas in homes. Is it all scare tactics?