COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine today signed legislation that aims to raise awareness of the link between radon exposure and cancer risk by designating January as Radiation Awareness Month in Ohio.
Known as the Annie Cacciato Act, the legislation is named in honor of Annie Cacciato, a seven-year survivor of stage 4 lung cancer who was treated at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). Annie is a lifelong never-smoker; her lung cancer diagnosis is believed to be linked to long-term radon exposure. Seeking answers after her diagnosis, she initiated having the school and building where she worked in Licking County tested for radon. Results were 10 times higher than the levels deemed “safe” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
As noted in her written testimony to the Ohio legislature: “I had been breathing in a major carcinogen for years, completely unaware of its presence or the damage it was inflicting on my body. It was like a dirty bomb that had no taste, no color or smell — a silent killer with me daily. No one needs to be in my situation. This problem is preventable and can be mitigated, but you cannot fix a problem you are unaware of. Too many people are unaware of the dangers of radon in our homes, businesses and schools.”
With support from her attending medical oncologist, Dr. David Carbone, and government affairs staff at the OSUCCC – James, Annie spearheaded work to raise awareness of radon exposure to state leaders to create a statewide radiation awareness month. The act was sponsored by State Rep. Jon Cross (R-Kenton) and officially accepted in June 2021.
Lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer-related death for both men and women in the United States and globally. While most people know that smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer overall, according to the U.S. EPA, radon exposure is the second-leading cause of lung cancer and the primary cause among non-smokers like Annie.
“I have dedicated the past seven years of my life to educate others about radon awareness, which is not taken seriously enough by Ohioans,” added Annie in her testimony. “Ending all lung cancer from radon is the goal of the Radon Awareness Bill.”
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that can be detected only with specialized measurement devices. It comes from the decay of tiny amounts of uranium naturally occurring in the ground. This decay generates radon gas, which percolates up through the soil into the basements of homes. When people breathe radon into their lungs, it can emit particles that cause DNA damage and, ultimately, lead to cancer.
“This is an especially concerning issue in Ohio, where we have the fourth highest level of radon among all the states and are in the top 10 for lung cancer incidence. Unfortunately, many people are not aware that radon exposure is linked to lung cancer risk. We need to do better — and awareness of the situation is the first step in reducing lung cancer suffering and deaths in Ohio and beyond,” said Carbone, who directs the Thoracic Oncology Center at the OSUCCC – James and holds the Barbara J. Bonner Chair in Lung Cancer Research at the Ohio State College of Medicine.
To learn more about the health risks of radon, visit epa.gov/radon/health-risk-radon. To learn more about lung cancer treatment and screening, visit cancer.osu.edu/lungcancer.