By Art Nash and Jennifer Athey
Certain words can create anxiety, depending on your life experiences. One of those words is radiation. This is especially true for those of us who grew up during the Cold War and had under-the-desk drills, saw yellow rectangle “Fallout Shelter” signs at school, and came to know geography framed by Hiroshima, Nagasaki, 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl.
It’s important to talk about the intensity and duration of radiation exposure and physiological effects that occur with different radiation sources when gauging and discussing the risk of radiation to human health.
The sun gives off radiation, which can cause skin cancer after prolonged periods of solar exposure. Radioactive radon gas in homes originates from naturally occurring uranium in rocks and soils. Similar to the effects of solar radiation, exposure to radon gas can cause lung cancer after you breathe it in. In both cases, your likelihood of getting cancer is highly influenced by length of exposure time to these very low-dose radiation sources.
Many of Alaska’s rocks and soils contain enough uranium to produce dangerous levels of radon when concentrated in a home’s air. Where it can migrate up to the surface, radon gas may enter buildings through even tiny holes in the interface between your home and the ground. Homes constructed in seismically active areas are especially susceptible to radon intrusion. For example, the 7.0 earthquake that rattled Anchorage on Nov. 30 created breaches and fissures in foundations, potentially allowing radon gas traveling through newly formed cracks in soil and rock to seep inside.
Environmental Protection Agency-endorsed testing protocol from the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technicians recommends that homeowners test for radon every five years, after significant seismic events like Anchorage’s recent earthquake, and after other events and activities that may change the air flow or structure of your home, such as home remodels.
Yet, let’s be clear, radon’s low-level radiation starts with a small “r.” Alternatively, the nuclear power plant core meltdowns at Fukushima eight years ago involved larger amounts of radiation, the big “R.” The first fatality associated with cleanup of Fukushima’s contaminated materials occurred only several years after the disaster. Daily exposure to radon over the life of a typical home mortgage may also cause cancer — in fact, about 20,000 people in the U.S. die from breathing radon every year. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer. The long exposure time also provides ample opportunity to make sure your home’s level of radon stays below the EPA’s action level of 4 picocuries per liter.
In one sense, radon may be more of a health risk than processed uranium. Changes to the body’s tissues from radon are not symptomatic until significant lung damage has occurred, unlike the nausea, skin lesions and burns that we associate with very high doses of radiation.
In fact, you can’t smell, taste, or see radon gas. The only way you’ll know if you have a high radon concentration is to test your home’s air, and that measurement can fluctuate according to how you run your HRV, bathroom fan and hood range in normal daily operations and with other factors over time.
Short-term tests (up to 96 hours) and long-term tests (up to a year) are both good options, depending on whether you want a quick snapshot or yearly average of the radon concentration in your home.
In short, radiation from natural exposure to the sun or escaping radon gas is important to be aware of and to mitigate. January is National Radon Action Month, and we encourage you to test if you haven’t in the last five years, or if your home’s structure or airflow has been altered.
If you have questions about testing methods, device placement or how to fix your home, call the Alaska Radon Hotline at 1-800-478-8324. If you’re interested in learning more, Nash will lead a radon workshop at 5 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Nenana Student Living Center and will schedule other workshops as requested.
Art Nash is the Extension energy and radon specialist for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 907-474-6366 or by email at email@example.com. Jennifer Athey is a geologist with the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys.
Efforts to Aid Both Employees Needing Food Help and Those Wanting to Volunteer While Furloughed
With increasing numbers of employees of the federal government and federal contractors nationwide forced to seek charitable food after missing a paycheck, Hunger Free America, a national nonprofit group, announced a new “Fed Food” toll-free 800 line and web portal to help anyone affected to locate free food and/or to volunteer their time to fight hunger.
Any employee of the federal government or a federal contractor — or any family member of such an employee — who is struggling financially as a result of the government shutdown, can call the toll free number 855-859-4647 or go to www.HungerFreeAmerica.org/FedFood to find food resources (such as government food programs and private food pantries) near them and/or to be connected with anti-hunger volunteer activities so they can productively utilize their time off work.
The toll-free line will have live operators answering calls Mondays – Fridays, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Eastern Time, and will take messages at other times. The hotline and web portal will be active as long as the shutdown lasts.
Explaining this new effort, Hunger Free America CEO Joel Berg, said: “We want to make sure that anyone harmed by the shutdown can get and/or give help. Last Friday, hundreds of thousands of federal employees affected by the shutdown missed their first paycheck. The lowest paid federal employees — at the GS 3 pay level — have starting salaries of only $23,043. Numerous low-paid employees of federal contractors have also missed paychecks. Given that one in five Americans overall have either zero savings or have debt larger than their savings, it’s clear that low-income federal employees could quickly run out of food after being denied even one paycheck. Many dedicated public servants will need extra help with food. This shutdown vividly demonstrates just how many Americans are only one missed paycheck away from hunger.”
In Ogden, Utah — home to thousands of IRS and U.S. Forest Service workers — Catholic Community Services of Northern Utah waived the income requirements to access its food pantry so that federal workers could utilize it twice a month during the shutdown. In Huntington, West Virginia, employees of the Ashland Federal Corrections Institution have been forced to get food from a local food bank. Coast Guard employees in Key West, Florida have accessed charitable food for the first time.
Continued Berg, “Since most of the federal nutrition assistance programs are now funded through February, we can help federal employees who may now qualify for them to access them while they last. Ironically, some of the employees that administer federal food assistance may now be eligible to obtain help from such programs. We can also help all federal employees and contract employees locate private charities that provide food help, although food pantries nationwide were overwhelmed before the shutdown, and they only have a limited supply of food, so there is no absolute guarantee that when people contact us for food help and we refer them to a local food program, they will get all the help they need. But if we can help even a little bit, we need to try.”
Berg himself was a federal employee for eight years, working as an appointee at the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1993 to 2001.
“I know from personal experience that most federal employees are very hard working and highly dedicated to public service,” Berg said. “That’s why we also want to make it easier for them to use their furloughed time to serve the public by performing anti-hunger volunteer service.”
Certified food protection manager training will take place by videoconference Feb. 12 in several Alaska communities.
Locations include Fairbanks, Delta Junction, Palmer, Valdez, Juneau, Sitka and other communities as requested. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service will offer the food safety management workshop from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
State regulations require that all food establishments have at least one certified food protection manager to ensure compliance with food safety regulations.
Jan. 30 is the deadline to sign up and receive a study guide before the class. Registration, locations and more information are available at http://bit.ly/cesCFPM. The $200 fee includes one certification exam. For additional information or to request another location, contact the instructor, Julie Cascio, at (907)745-3677 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan. 17-19: Dean Cummings, Sr., Memorial Basketball Tournament
Live Streaming courtesy of the DHS Media Production Class. View online at live.KDHS.fm
Dance performance by the Delta Dance & Performing Arts group during 1/2 time of the boys championship game
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Farm management workshop set for Jan. 22 in Delta Junction
The USDA Risk Management Agency and RightRisk invite Delta area residents to learn strategies to help manage risks with their agricultural businesses.
A Surviving in Agriculture workshop will take place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Delta Career Advancement Center. The workshop is free. Participants will learn the basics of estate planning and the succession of their agricultural businesses. They will also gain an increased understanding of taxable income and deductions stemming from their farm businesses and how to compute the costs and returns from their enterprises.
The workshop will be led by Jeffrey Tranel, an agricultural and business management economist from Colorado State University, and John Hewlett, a farm management specialist from the University of Wyoming. RightRisk is a research and education effort aimed at helping farmers understand and evaluate risk management decisions. Although the workshop is free, registration is requested at https://RightRisk.eventbrite.com.