January is the EPA’s National Radon Action Month. “Radon” is a word that was popping out at me for a while. It got my mommy-senses tingling, and I felt it was important for me to “take action,” and spread the word.
My first sighting came with my new home daycare application. It’s listed as an “environmental hazard” that would require me to test and prove that my home was not contaminated before a license is granted in most counties in NY State. NYC is not listed as a “zone 1 or zone 2” according to the NY State EPA’s map. Whew! I don’t live there, so I am not going to worry about it!
Then I saw a sign floating among dozens of creative pieces of artwork and clever slogans at a protest at Hudson River Park, “Radon is bad for Kids.” The action was protesting a 36” high-pressure natural gas pipeline approved to enter there. Why is radon bad for kids? What does this Spectra Pipeline have to do with radon? I took a flyer. An NYC group suing on behalf of residents to stop the pipeline, Sane Energy Project, lists several resources about radon on their site. I also went to the EPA’s radon information pages. I searched for other sources and found a drilling industry rebuttal of environmental research. I am not an advanced scientist, mind you, but the below points are things that I think are important to know about the problem:
- Radon is a naturally occurring inert gas. It can come up from rock underground and can leak into people’s homes in high-radon areas.
- Radon is the heaviest of the inert gases, falling to low places. So instead of rising above our heads, it sinks to our floors.
- Shale rock, where natural gas is extracted from, is extremely radioactive. From thousands of miles down, natural gas drilling brings up radon and polonium with the gas.
- Pennsylvania is home to most of the natural gas contracted to flow through the Spectra pipeline, areas listed as EPA “Radon Zone 1” and “Radon Zone 2,” the two highest ratings.
- The EPA states “no level of radon is safe,” and recommends “4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L)” as the level homeowners should “fix their homes,” as they are unsafe.
- In an industry rebuttal of studies performed by Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, a scientist of nuclear waste management concerned about radon in natural gas, the industry boasts: actual, measured radon concentration in the pipeline at Lambertville, New Jersey, approximately 70 miles before the gas would reach New York City customers by the pipeline extension is only about 17 pCi/L .
- NYC buildings do not vent to the outside, and many of us do not have kitchen windows, trapping radon inside homes to accumulate.
- Cooking at the stove, you will breathe it in. It does not burn up in the flame.
I am not an advanced mathematician either, but I do know only 17 picocuries is still more than 4 picocuries. The industry boast about this number as though because it’s not 17,000 and “only 17” I should relax. If I make 3 meals a day at my stovetop, and the radon level is 17, or even 10 what is my lung cancer risk? What if I am pregnant? Radiation causes miscarriages! How much lead would that mean in my apartment? I sit on the floor and play every day. Will I breathe in radon? How much lead could we touch? What about my babies sleeping on little cots and mats? How do I clean this stuff up?
Radon is not just bad for kids; it’s bad for everyone, mommies, daddies, babies, aunties and uncles, grandmas, grandpas, dogs and cats.
After all this reading and re-reading and looking up words in dictionaries I was overwhelmed. Years of buying organic food and carefully choosing non-toxic lotions and potions, cleaners, paints, art materials and air fresheners to make my home safer, and RADON now? I am angry that something as serious as home radon I learned about at a rally to ban fracking, and not on the news. I hear Natural Gas being touting like it’s the best thing to happen to the USA. Meanwhile, people are paying a sacrifice. Water is polluted, the air and soils are contaminated, and the gas is laced with levels of radon that are more than 4 times the EPA action level. Whose children are going to be sickened next? Not mine. Not yours. Whose?
I found Mother’s action groups like Mom’s Clean Air Force, Climate Mama and Mother’s for Sustainable Energy and am finding ways I can channel my fear and fury to bring this issue into our homes before radon does. I learned that it will take millions of parents asking for research and discussion and a business doctrine of “first, do no harm,” for us to make a change in how pollution is managed. As I read to my child and students about Martin Luther King, about how his words, songs and signs brought justice to the people, I am telling them that we need to use these lessons now, to save our planet from pollution. Visit these sites, sign up for their newsletters and learn with me how to fight like real super heroes- peacefully, non-violently and creatively. We can do it with our signs, songs, words and pens like Dr. King. And he did not have computers!
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