Jeffco youngsters take radon awareness message to another level

LAKEWOOD – A pair of Jeffco youngsters have a message: Radon can kill.

Christina and Eric Bear have launched RAP-Detect to Protect, a radon awareness program (RAP) urging use of inexpensive, in-home radon detection kits and other measures to mitigate risks.

And they are taking their message to city councils, community events and, soon, to schools, YouTube and the state legislature in hopes of alerting their young peers, teachers and public officials of the need to stem the intrusion of the silent killer.

Lakewood City Council is next on their list. Christina and Eric plan to address Council at its Jan. 10 meeting, and hope to persuade council members to enact an International Building Code provision that would require radon mitigation in newly built homes and other buildings, perhaps even extending the mitigation requirements to renovations.

“We have a grass-roots strategy that we’re working with,” said Christina, 12. “We start at the bottom with teachers and kids,” who spread the word to parents, grandparents, neighbors and others.

“And we’re also speaking at City Council meetings where we can ask them what they’re doing and ask them what we can do to help them and what they can do to help us,” said Eric, who is two years younger.

Radon is a naturally occurring, invisible radioactive gas emitted from uranium and radium in the soil. It can be drawn into a building – a process hastened by some heating systems – where it accumulates to levels that increase the likelihood of lung cancer, especially among people who spend decades in an affected home.

They adopted radon awareness as their cause a few years back while looking for something to occupy their time during a break from school and found a national radon poster contest. As they researched the topic, Christina and Eric became alarmed about the looming presence of radon, which occurs at high levels in the soil across Colorado.

“We know that Colorado is one of the states that has the most radon in the United States,” Eric said.

“It really surprised us that so many people were dying from this gas that you can’t taste, feel or anything like that, and we just wanted to spread awareness about it,” Christina said during an interview at the Jefferson County Department of Health offices in Lakewood.

Jim Dale, epidemiologist for the county agency, said a “broad estimate” based on national figures and bolstered the elevated radon risk in the state suggests 400 radon-caused lung cancers deaths occur each year in Colorado. Based on population assumptions, Dale estimates that 40 of those deaths occur in Jefferson County.

Christina won the national poster contest in 2008 and Eric won the contest in 2010.

With those credentials in their favor, they decided to take their radon detection and mitigation message to the community.

“We were like: We really need to do something about this,” Eric said. “We think it is a really good idea to spread awareness and help people know that there is this stuff out there and we need to fix it.”

Among the fixes: Appendix F of the International Building Code, which suggests several mitigation measures for new construction. The IBC urges such things as polyethylene sheeting beneath crawl spaces, a 3- to 4-inch vent pipe from below grade to the roof that can be modified to accommodate a vent fan where needed and sealed basement joints and the areas where pipes enter structures.

Such measures would cost between $350 and $500, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

And for existing buildings, Eric and Christina to use radon detection kits available from a variety of sources, including Jeffco Health and home improvement stores.

Because radon is contained in soils, basements and ground-floor areas harbor the highest risk for radon exposure.

But homes aren’t the only problem, especially for school children.

“One of the reasons we want to spread awareness is that kids spend most of their time at home or at school and we thought that if one of those has a high radon level then that’s dangerous,” Christina said.

Because schools can pose a risk, she and Eric want to take their presentation to schools, as well, partly because schools are not required to mitigate the intrusion of radon into schools, something both youngsters plan to change.

“Our goal is to spread awareness. Then further down the road, get some laws passed to get it mitigated” in schools as well, Eric said.

When they start lobbying the legislature, the siblings will have plenty of support.

They have enlisted the Colorado Department of Public Health of Environment, the EPA, the American Lung Association and Jeffco’s Health Department in their awareness campaign.

And Jeffco Health spokeswoman Nancy Braden plans to help Eric and Christina compile a YouTube video presentation they can use in their awareness campaign. Braden had high praise for the youngsters.

“Most of us don’t start thinking about medical issues until we are older,” Braden said. “What could be more important in our lives?”

Mayor points to city’s financial health, public safety in year end report

LAKEWOOD – The city fared well during 2010, escaping many of the financial problems that face many of the city’s neighbors, and 2011 offers some promising developments, Mayor Bob Murphy said in his annual Year’s End Report.

“It is time to celebrate accomplishments … some of the things that we accomplished in the City of Lakewood this year,” Murphy told City Council Monday night during the last Council meeting of the year.

Murphy gave credit for the bright outlook to “this council, everybody that works for the City of Lakewood – each and every one of our staff members – and our community, as well, the very, very engaged and active citizenry.”

While most governments in Colorado as well as nation wide are struggling to make ends meet by cutting back on staff, services and other expenses Lakewood has thus far avoided crippling budget problems, adding to the city’s reserve fund for the fourth consecutive year without layoffs or cutbacks in city-provided services, Murphy said.

That came about while the city entered its first full without its long-standing grocery tax, which was eliminated by City Council in response to findings by a city-appointed review panel and a citizen-initiated petition drive that would have sent the matter to a special election.

Among other good news: the city’s crime rate is down for the third consecutive year

“Our fundamental role is keeping Lakewood safe,” Murphy said, praising the Lakewood Police Department as “the best in the state” and acknowledging the role of a vigilant community in safeguarding public safety.

The city also took a large step forward on the issue of government transparency at the beginning of the year, launching The Lakewood Ledger, a searchable online database of the city’s checkbook.

“You can go online and track every single nickel of Lakewood’s revenue and expenses,” Murphy said.

Murphy also noted the city’s role in saving O’Connell Middle School in east-central Lakewood after the school was placed on a Jeffco Public Schools hit-list of facilities to be closed in a money saving measure.

The city lobbied the county school board to spare the school, which serves an economically challenged area of the community. As part of the argument to spare the school, the city revealed plans to launch a Boys and Girls Club at the school, then helped raise the funds to ensure the youth organization could meet its funding goal.

And the city launched a number of small-business initiatives during the year, part of the effort to demonstrate Lakewood is a “small business friendly” community, Murphy said.

Among other 2010 accomplishments on Murphy’s list: a new Head Start preschool center at the new light-rail Garrison Street Station, a Sustainable Neighborhoods Pilot program in the Glennon Heights neighborhood, the Seniors Mentoring Program, the opening of Ortho-Care Colorado Hospital on the St. Anthony Hospital campus, the pending July opening of St. A’s, and the progress of light-rail construction.