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ATSDR Press Room

ATSDR Initial Study Finds Elevated Levels of Radon Gas, Radium in Polycythemia Vera Study Area in Pennsylvania


Pennsylvania

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

ATLANTA—Some homes in Carbon, Luzerne, and Schuylkill counties of Pennsylvania have elevated levels of radon gas in indoor air and radium in soils, according to a health consultation released today by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Researchers were unable to determine if a cluster of cases of Polycythemia Vera (PV) in people living in the counties is related to exposures to the substances.

The report provides an analysis of radiologic sampling information researchers reviewed to learn more about the possible cluster of PV cases in northeastern Pennsylvania. PV is a rare form of cancer of the blood that causes the body to make too many red blood cells. It occurs more often in men than women, and is rare in patients under age 40.

“Based on analysis of the samples, ATSDR considers the exposures to radon gas in indoor air at these homes to be of public health concern and encourages residents living in the study area to have their homes tested,” said Lora Werner, Director, ATSDR Region III. “The elevated levels of radium in soils are not considered to be a health risk but may be worthy of further study.”

At the request of ATSDR, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) collected and analyzed environmental samples within the tri-county area and ATSDR evaluated the possible health effects of exposure to the radiological elements in the samples.

The ATSDR report also found:

  • Some houses in the study area had elevated levels of radon gas in indoor air. Radon gas was also found in the private well water of some homes.
  • Soils from the study area had slightly elevated levels of radium.
  • Without additional information, ATSDR cannot determine if the cluster of cases of PV disease in the tri-county area is related to the radiological exposures observed in the environmental sampling information.

This report is part of a larger investigation of the cluster of cases of PV in northeast Pennsylvania. Overall, there are 18 projects in four areas for investigation: epidemiology, genetics, toxicology, and environmental analysis. The findings of these projects will provide information about PV and other blood disorders, as well as share information on environmental investigations in the study area.

ATSDR recommends:

  • All residents in the study area should have their homes tested for radon gas. Houses with elevated radon levels should be retested. If a home is retested and elevated radon levels continue, residents should contact the state of Pennsylvania radon program hotline at 1-800-237-2366 and request additional information on how to reduce the radon levels in the home.
  • People in homes with high levels of radon in their drinking water should contact the PADEP Radon Program for assistance. Home water supplies can be treated to reduce radon levels.

The health consultation report on radon gas and radium in the PV study area is available at: www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/polycythemia_vera.

For more information, please call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636). Please request information about: “Review of Radiological Data Measured in the Polycythemia Vera Investigation Study Area in Carbon, Luzerne, and Schuylkill Counties.

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ATSDR, a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, evaluates the potential for adverse human health effects of exposure to hazardous substances in the environment.

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