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?”

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