Date Published: 12/17/2019 [Source]
A prevalent feature of Northeast Georgia remains invisible in Barrow County: radon gas.
Radon is a radioactive element. It occurs in the form of gas released through gradual breakdown of certain other elements present in soil and rocks. Statistically, radon contributes to the death of one person in the United States every 25 minutes, according to the group Cancer Survivors Against Radon or CanSAR, a nonprofit devoted to helping radon-induced lung cancer survivors.
Breakdown refers to the process of decay in unstable chemical elements like uranium, radium and thorium. The release of energy during decay results in radiation, often in the form of alpha particles that can penetrate cells lining the lungs. The resulting changes in DNA contained in the cells can alter cell growth, sometimes forming cancerous tumors in the lungs.
The radon that emanates from the ground becomes just a trace element in the Earth's atmosphere. But because people live and work in enclosed buildings, they may be breathing air that has unnaturally high concentrations of the gas. The radon enters homes and other buildings directly from the ground, through crevices in foundations, walls or floors, seeping in as elements slowly decay in soils and in rocks like granite — which is common in North Georgia. As individuals inhale the indoor air, their lungs absorb the radon.
The Environmental Protection Agency classifies radon as the primary cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and the second-leading cause of lung cancer overall behind smoking.
Despite radon's classification as a Group 1 carcinogen, a substance known to cause cancer, University of Georgia radon educator Derek Cooper says there's little conversation among the public about the gas and its potential dangers.
"I had somebody call me — this is sad — their wife had died recently. They tested their home for radon, and it came back high," Cooper says. "She was a nonsmoker. Died of lung cancer.
"So, it's very tough because most times, people only realize their levels are high after a diagnosis rather than before."