This winter, Garfield County is partnering with doctors to get people to test their homes for radon. The naturally occurring gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer, and nearly half of Garfield County homes have levels higher than what’s considered safe.
Below is a transcript of Elise Thatcher’s report.
Reporter: I’m sitting in a doctor’s office with brightly painted walls of yellow, blue and green.
Dr. David Brooks: I’m David Brooks, I’m a pediatrician at Pediatric Partners in Glenwood. We’re trying to promote awareness of the effects of radon in our community.”
Reporter: Doctor Brooks is on call today-- so while it’s quiet now, he’s at the ready for any last minute appointments. During the year he sees hundreds of patients... and this winter he decided to combine many of those appointments with a county-wide effort to combat radon.
Dr. Brooks: “We’ll talk about what radon is. It’s a odorless, tasteless gas that’s very high risk here in Colorado, and in fact there are about 21,000 cases of lung cancer associated with radon each year.”
Reporter: Specifically that’s during what’s called child wellness visits. They’re covered by insurance and Medicaid for kids aged five, six, nine, and ten.
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Reporter: And during those visits, Brooks and his staff give out free radon test kits.
Brooks: “So we will explain to both the parent and the child how simple the kit is,” crinkle, “how you basically have to follow the directions on the back here which is writing your name, what time you put out the kit…”
Reporter: Which means hanging a small sponge at about chest height for three days. And Brooks has got a special tactic.
Brooks: “One of the things I often really try to do is to get the kid to want to do it. Because I very rarely get the parents to open it up, but I can very frequently get the kids to open it up and do the testing.”
Morgan Hill: “In Garfield County, much like the rest of the state, approximately forty percent of homes have tested above the EPA’s action limit for radon.”
Reporter: Morgan Hill is an environmental health specialist with the county. Radon comes from radioactive rock underground… and there’s a lot of that in Colorado. She’s tried several different ways over the years of raising awareness about the powerful gas. When Dr. Brooks approached her about handing out testing kits at the doctor’s office, she was excited.
Hill: “In my personal life I’ve had friends that have kids and then when they have kids they’re like, ‘Oh I need to test for radon!’ [Laughs]... Whereas when it’s just themselves they might not think of it as much.”
Reporter: It’s especially important to test for in the winter, because it’s more likely to build up in homes with closed up doors and windows. Hill points out catching high radon is actually a unique opportunity.
Hill: “It’s a cancer risk that you can do something about. Cause so often cancer risks are difficult to control. You know we try to eat more fruits or vegetables, and maybe buy organic so we’re not eating as many pesticides. Even then it can be difficult.”
Reporter: Test kits are free and take seventy two hours to gather radon samples, then can be put back in the mail at no cost. If they come back with high readings, Hill arranges a second test, just to make sure. In the end, homeowners can bring those levels down with some simple work with a crawlspace or basement. It costs anywhere from twelve hundred to three thousand dollars to do that.
Reporter: For now, the effort is to first to give out as many test kits as possible… and convince people to use them. Again, Dr. David Brooks.
Dr. Brooks: “Prevention is very hard in medicine because it takes a lot of effort for basically nothing to happen in the future. It is very hard to celebrate you didn’t get cancer in 30 years.”
Reporter: His office has given out about fifty radon test kits since December 1st, and about twenty percent of families have returned them. The plan is to do some follow up phone calls and texts to help increase that number. The effort continues at least through the end of March.