Fluoride Action Network

Will Florida cut radon risks?

Source: St. Petersburg Times | December 10th, 1987 | Editorial
Industry type: Phosphate Industry

If the 1988 Legislature is serious about reducing Florida’s lung cancer cases caused by radon gas, it will toss out the tainted report from a committee of special interests and concentrate on recommendations by Gloria Rains, a Manatee County environmentalist and expert on the radon hazard.

Mrs. Rains recently stood alone against the industries that profit from the sale of radon land – the Central Florida phosphate miners, real estate agents and builders – and vowed to submit a one-person minority report challenging their findings as inadequate to protect the public health.

As the only consumer advocate on the Radon The 1988 Legislature ought to enact strict radon regulations to ensure that all old and new construction in dangerous areas is radon-resistant and to inform the public of the health hazards.

Peer Review Committee, Mrs. Rains was consistently outvoted by the special interests: Committee chairman Larry Libertore, a Polk County commissioner and real estate agent; James W. Lee, a Brandon builder; and Joseph H. Baretincic, representing the phosphate industry that has sold or developed thousands of acres of radioactive land on old phosphate mines.

A.H. “Fred” Baldwin, who was supposed to be a public advocate as the representative from the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, meekly acceded to the special interests.

Giving in to big business, no matter how irresponsibly it behaves, appears to be the standard instruction from Republican Gov. Bob Martinez.

Radon, an odorless, colorless radioactive gas that causes up to 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States is found in phosphate regions and usually is more dangerous on old phosphate mines.

Seeping up from the soil, it accumulates in poorly ventilated buildings. Attached to dust particles and inhaled, it lodges in the lungs and causes cancer after long-term exposure. Children are especially at risk.

Mrs. Rains’ major objectives are reasonable safeguards in the public interest. She would reduce the level of public exposure to radon to provide an adequate safety margin. The committee accepts the federal government’s outdated standard, which is described as “downright hazardous” by Dr. Richard Guimond, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s radon division. Guimond says that level of exposure poses a 1 to 5 percent chance of getting lung cancer and is equivalent to smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day or getting 300 chest X-rays a year.

Mrs. Rains sought to cut that risk in half, but was rebuffed by the industries’ majority. Indeed, the special interests defeated just aboutevery proposal Mrs. Rains advanced, including a proposal that radon testing be required in all Florida buildings before they are sold and that all property deeds and contracts include specific warnings of health hazards caused by radon gas. All are public health issues that the radon industries refuse to face even though the radon hazard in the Central Florida phosphate region has been known since the early 1970s.

Their lobbying power in Tallahassee has blocked state regulation of radon while thousands of homes and buildings have been built on high-risk radon land during the last 15 years. The exploitation of hazardous phosphate mines is intensifying. The New York Times last week reported a mining company’s plan for a $ 500-million development of 3,400 living units on old phosphate mines at Lakeland in Polk County, a radon “hot spot.”

Florida has failed its obligation to protect the public health. The 1988 Legislature ought to enact strict radon regulations to ensure that all old and new construction in dangerous areas is radon-resistant and to inform the public of the health hazards.