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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Residents in about 100 military homes on Okinawa are being offered new housing after tests revealed elevated levels of a naturally occurring radioactive gas, the Air Force said this week.

A fall survey of some Air Force-managed housing found radon in the homes exceeded safety guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and that a small number were more than double the acceptable amount, according to the 18th Wing.

Radon — which is emitted from decaying radioactive elements commonly found in soil — is the top cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and kills more people each year than drunken driving, drowning and house fires combined, according to the EPA.

The Air Force said it is unaware of any health problems related to the presence of radon in military housing, but it has notified residents of the elevated levels. They have the option of moving within 30 days while the service works to upgrade ventilation systems to reduce the gas to safe levels.

“Just moving the air has a substantial effect” on the radon, 18th Wing spokesman Ed Gulick said.

It was not yet known how many residents will take the offer of new housing.

Meanwhile, Air Force officials began a series of town hall meetings at local bases this week to address public concerns over the testing results.

Contractors discovered the radon problem in November during a survey of 667 homes, which is a fraction of the 8,325 housing units that have been tested for the gas since 1991, the 18th Wing public affairs office said in a written response to Stars and Stripes.

“We’ve had a very active radon surveying, screening, and response program in Okinawa Military Family Housing for a very long time,” Col. Brian Duffy, commander of the 18th Civil Engineer Group, said in a prepared statement. “While radon gas occurs naturally, we sample indoor radon gas because high levels can impact our health over time.”

Homes that had levels above 4 picocuries per liter will receive the ventilation upgrades, which is in line with the EPA guidelines for reducing the risk of disease from radon.

The Air Force said 29 homes that had more than double that amount, which could significantly increase the risk of lung cancer under EPA guidelines.

In the United States, the average indoor radon level is about 1.3 picocuries per liter, according to the EPA.

trittent@pstripes.osd.mil


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