Published on 05/28/08

Mrs. Georgia warns about lung cancer, radon

By April Sorrow
University of Georgia

Tiffany Hudak wears the crown because she is Mrs. Georgia 2008. She wears the bracelet on her wrist because she wants to bring awareness to lung cancer.

Five years ago, Hudak’s mother was diagnosed with lung cancer at a routine doctor’s visit. She died three weeks later.

“There is no way to detect lung cancer early,” she said. “Once it is found, it is too late.”

Lung cancer doesn’t only affect smokers. More than 21,000 people die each year from lung cancer caused by radon. Georgia has the highest rate in the Southeast with 822 deaths last year.

Radon is a cancer-causing radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. It is invisible, odorless and tasteless. Regions with a lot of granite have a higher risk for radon.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, all north Georgia counties have a moderate to high potential for radon. Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties have the highest potential for it.

Raised in Elberton, Ga., known as the granite capitol of the world, radon awareness is important to Hudak.

“It is scary. It is all around us,” she said.

Since winning her crown in February 2008, she has thrust the spotlight on her cause. She has been featured in several newspaper articles and will be on the cover of Athena magazine later this year. She hosted the Georgia “Free to Breath” 5k run in April, which raised more than $5,000 for the National Lung Cancer Partnership. And she’s joined forces with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

“Radon is truly a silent killer,” said Becky Chenhall, a UGA Extension radon educator. “It is so easy to ignore because you can’t see, smell or taste it. The only way to know the radon level in your home is to test for it.”

UGA Extension offices distribute free radon test kits. Since the program started five years ago, 22,000 test kits have been distributed.

“We are saving lives by educating and motivating people to take action,” Chenhall said. “The bad news is radon causes lung cancer. The good news is that any radon problem can be fixed.”

Radon is heavier than air. Test kits should be hanged two feet to six feet above the floor in the center of a room. Bedrooms or family rooms are the best rooms to test. Children are at greater risk of radon exposure. The radon level at a child’s breathing level is higher than that found at an adult’s.

Radon test results will never be 0. The average indoor level is 1.3 pCi/L. Any test that measures 4 pCi/L or higher requires action. Nationally, one out of every 15 homes will have high radon. In north Georgia, one out of every five homes could have elevated radon.

When required, mitigation can be done relatively cheap. The gas can be safely released from the home by installing an inline fan and running a ventilation pipe from underneath the home’s foundation to above the roofline. Georgia currently has 10 certified radon mitigators trained to correct radon problems.

April R. Sorrow is a science writer with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.