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Radon gas and black mold are two health concerns Wyoming residents face in their homes.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies Wyoming as Zone 1 for radon risk. This classification indicates that the average indoor screening level is greater than four picocuries per liter (pCi/l). 

“A family whose home has radon levels of four pCi/l is exposed to approximately 35 times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would allow if that family was standing next to the fence of a radioactive waste site,” states radon.com.

Radon and its effects

Radon is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas, which comes from the decay of uranium and radium in soil beneath homes. This gas escapes from the soil and seeps into homes, creating a potentially dangerous environment for inhabitants. 

“Every house is going to have radon gas,” Steve Melia, MSPH at the Wyoming Department of Health. “It is a naturally occurring phenomenon.”

“There are only three houses that do not have to worry about radon – tree houses, stilt houses and mobile homes that do not have skirting,” he continues. 

“Radon does not anything aside from lung cancer at this point in time,” says Melia. “Research is being done with its connection to childhood leukemia, but there is nothing solid at this point.”

There are no immediate symptoms that will alert inhabitants to the presence of the gas, and it could potentially take years for health problems to arise. 

Prevention and correction

Testing for the gas every two years is the only way to know the radon levels in a home. It is also important to test after structural modifications have occurred. 

“The more energy efficient or tighter the house is, the more suction it will exert on the soil,” says Melia. “This will bring up more radon from the soil.”

However, if high levels are detected in homes, steps can be taken by contractors to correct the levels. 

A mitigation system can be installed in a house with high levels. This modification places pipes underneath the house, which draws up the radon gas being released by the soil and expels it from a fan located above ground. 

Black mold

Black mold is known as one of the most dangerous molds to humans and can grow in houses. It is considered a toxic mold because of the production of mycotoxins. 

This mold is greenish-black and appears gelatinous. It is typically slimy because of a wet layer on top but can appear dry and powdery if the water source has run out. 

“Mold spores may enter your house from the outside through open doorways, windows and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems with outdoor air intakes,” states the Center for Disease Control (CDC). “When mold spores drop on places where there is excessive moisture, such as where leakage may have occurred or where there has been flooding, they will grow. Many building materials provide suitable nutrients that encourage mold to grow.”

Large mold infestation can typically be seen and smelled. 

Symptoms

Wyoming residents have been plagued with black mold problems across the state, resulting in hospitalization.

When black mold infests homes, frequently, the property must be rebuilt. 

Generally, symptoms include respiratory problems, skin inflammation, hemorrhage, irritation of mucous membranes, damage to internal organs, mental impairment, tiredness, nausea and immune system suppression. In extreme cases, exposure to black mold can also lead to death. 

Children, the elderly and those with weak immune systems are usually the most sensitive to black mold toxicity. 

Removal

Since the mold needs high moisture levels to grow, removal of the water source is the first step that needs to be addressed. 

According to the CDC, “Things that stayed wet for two days have mold growing on them even if you cannot see it.”

“In most cases mold can be removed from hard surfaces by a thorough cleaning with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of no more than one cup of bleach in one gallon of water,” CDC continues. “If you have an extensive amount of mold, you may want to contact a professional.”

Higher efficiency, higher risk

Homes that are more energy efficient are sealed more tightly from the outside. However, the tighter seal will exert more suction on the soil, drawing up increased levels of radon gas. Without proper ventilation, the gas will build up in the home.

Older, less energy efficient houses are at a decreased risk of radon because there is more ventilation to the outside.

Regardless, every house is going to have some level of radon present because the building comes in contact with the ground. 

For more information on radon testing or kits, visit health.wyo.gov/phsd/radon/index.html. Further reading on black mold can be found at cdc.gov/mold/stachy.htm.

Kelsey Tramp is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Over the last year, Wyoming’s ag industry has seen ups and downs, but by and large, industry interest groups note that the year has been positive. 

“This year has been good,” says Dennis Sun, Wyoming Livestock Roundup publisher and Wyoming Public Lands Coalition director. “We’ve seen good cattle prices, lamb prices have rebounded, and overall, there have been a lot of positives.”

In addition, the Wyoming Livestock Roundup celebrated 25 years of the publication in May.

The Wyoming Wool Growers Association also celebrated the hiring of their new Executive Director Amy Hendrickson in November.

While many advancements have been made, there have also been trials, but most recognize the positives. 

Industry positives

Coming from 2012, when drought plagued Wyoming, Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Director Jim Magagna says, “From our industry’s perspective, the most monumental part of 2013 has been the cattle market. We have had extremely strong markets that most people have enjoyed.”

Lamb prices have also rebounded, strengthening the position of the lamb industry and enabling producers to regain confidence.

“At the same time, for a majority of the state, a relatively adequate amount of moisture and reasonably good forage were available this summer,” said Magagna. 

Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton notes that drought was still a factor for some, but Wyoming’s stored water helped to alleviate the problems that could have resulted.

“It is wonderful that some of our forefathers saw fit to build dams, so we had the ability to store water when we had an overabundance,” Hamilton said. “Last year was a classic example of how that played out.”

Livestock issues

Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) Director and CEO Leanne Correll says this year was relatively quiet for livestock issues throughout Wyoming.

“The situation with the elk in the Big Horns and the two seropositive elk in 2012 was on our radar,” she mentions. “Only having one more positive elk this year is a real success story to our surveillance program on the wildlife side.”

In addition, Correll commends livestock producers and livestock markets on their willingness to voluntarily test for brucellosis. 

“We’ve had good response from markets in doing voluntary testing to address this situation and retain the marketability of Wyoming’s livestock,” Correll says. “This has been one of the biggest success stories of the year.”

Trichomoniasis also continues to be an issue, but progress toward containing the disease continues.

Livestock Board

Correll also marks 2013 as being productive for the organization.

“Some of our really big accomplishments are cleaning up some of the unnecessarily fuzzy things within the agency,” she says. “For the first time in the history of the WLSB, we have administrative bylaws that will guide the agency and the Board.”

She adds that job descriptions have been formulated for the director and state veterinarian, as well, which alleviates additional questions.

“We are also moving forward with our computerization project,” Correll continues. “After decades of working toward having an integrated system, we finally have a signed contract and will be moving forward.”

“We have made strides in working through the agency’s issues and trying to responsive to balancing the needs of our customers with efficiency in the agency,” she adds. 

Legislation

As many agree, the Farm Bill continues to be problematic.

“On a national level, the Farm Bill, or lack thereof, and the uncertainty that surrounds that has been big,” Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton notes. “That also plays in to the issues that livestock producers in South Dakota had this fall.”

American Farm Bureau’s work on the waterways enhancement program impacts agriculture overall, Hamilton adds. 

In Wyoming, Magagna notes that positive efforts by the 2013 legislature include increases in bonding for seismic activity and eminent domain law changes were significant.

Conservation

Conservation efforts have also seen positive efforts during the past year.

“The Pathway to Water Quality project on the Wyoming State Fairgrounds is at the top of the list of projects that wrapped up this year,” comments Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Bobbie Frank. “That project is pretty much done, and it was pretty significant for us to wrap up the three-year, $500,000 project this year.”

Frank adds that working with Representative Cynthia Lummis’ office to put the Blueways designation for the Yellowstone River on hold and sending Russ Boardman to Washington, D.C. to testify on the effort were also a fruitful endeavors.

“It was also great to work with the inter-agency team to finally get a candidate conservation agreement with assurances for sage grouse was exciting,” she says. 

“It’s been a pretty good year, generally speaking,” Frank says. “We got a lot done and made progress in a lot of areas, despite the challenges politically on the national level.”

Continued positives

Overall, Magagna says, “There are a number of issues we will want to discuss over the course of the next year.”

However, he further notes that good markets and high prices have brought about other unforeseen opportunities.

“During our 2013 Winter Roundup, we saw involvement and participation from more young people in the industry at levels that have been unprecedented in my 15 years with the WSGA,” Magagna comments. “It is exciting to see the next generation getting engaged, and we look forward to 2014.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Park City, Utah – With activists continuing to fight against animal agriculture, American Wool Council (AWC) Wool Marketing Director Rita Kourlis Samuelson noted, “Activists aren’t fun to deal with, but we have to be aware of the issues out there.”

Samuelson discussed the incident from summer 2014 where videos alleging abuse by sheep shearers surfaced and dramatically affected wool growers. She presented at the 2014 West Central States Wool Growers Convention and looked at the factors that must be considered when handling activists. 

“We all know that there is a reason we shear our sheep,” said Samuelson. “Shearing is a tough time of  year, and we are always busy.”

The American Wool Council was made aware of the issue when Samuelson received a call on July 3. 

“I was thinking about barbeques, celebrations and apple pie,” she said, “when we got a call from an NBC reporter. She told us about a video showing abuse of sheep on 14 ranches. She wanted to let us know.”

Samuelson noted the timing was strategic – there was no one around and little time to respond with the approaching holiday. 

“Before NBC called us, they called our customers,” she continued. “That gets our attention.”

Addressing the situation

At the point that AWC was made aware of the allegations of abuse, Samuelson noted, “First, we gathered information. The most important thing is to gather information.”

An intensive effort was immediately launched to network with the state wool growers associations. 

“What they didn’t tell us is that the activists used people in the industry and set growers up,” she continued. “It was the same person being videoed. That is part of their strategy.”

“I immediately wanted to fight back and tell them how it really is. I wanted to get into the debate,” Samuelson said. “That isn’t the thing to do.”

Getting involved in the debate only serves to create more controversy, Samuelson added. Controversy only creates more publicity. 

“These activists have this down to a science,” Samuelson noted. “They gain sympathy and use this as a fundraiser.”

Informed response

The most important component in addressing activists is to have an accurate and informed response, Samuelson noted. 

“No response is the best response,” she added. “I’m not going to change an animal activist’s idea about anything.”

She also noted that AWC issued an animal welfare statement, including forms that producers can use when hiring shearers that now have welfare statements attached.

Ag gag laws

Samuelson also noted that ag gag laws have been effective in handling concerns regarding animal abuse. 

“Ag gag laws have worked great in Iowa and Utah,” she commented. “These laws say that no one can take a video unbeknownst to the owners of an operation.”

In Wyoming, she also noted that abuses are supposed to be reported by law. In Idaho, fines and jail time is associated with videotaping. 

Working together

Joining forces with a variety of partners is also important, Samuelson commented. 

“We have worked with Animal Ag Alliance (AAA) against activists,” she said. “They help the ag industry deal with these issues day in and day out.”

AAA recommends that producers initiate animal care programs and incorporate training into many activities. They also recommend swift action and use of caution.

“If someone shows up on a ranch that doesn’t seem like they should be there, producers should trust their instincts,” Samuelson mentioned. “Many people have told us that the guy taking the videos just didn’t fit in. We have to remember this in the future.”
Samuelson also recommended against meeting with activists who are alleging abuses. 

“Ignore their fishing techniques, keep all correspondence they send and get involved with state and national organizations,” she continued. 

Identifying activists

AAA has also developed a profile for the typical animal activist, noted Samuelson. 

“The typical activist is between 18 and 30 and Caucasian. They may use a college identification instead of a driver’s license,” she said. “They often look for work and only work a few weeks, and they come in early and leave late, straying into areas that they shouldn’t be.”

Frequently, activists are inappropriately educated for their job. 

Further, Samuelson encouraged producers to be aware of the threat of activists. 

“The sheep industry, like the animals we raise, is adaptable,” Samuelson noted. “We will rise to the challenge on this, as we have on everything else, but we have to think about this and be aware.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“Especially in Wyoming and other areas of the Rocky Mountains, we’ve seen a lot of people moving into areas that were traditionally unpopulated or just populated by ag producers,” said Natrona County University of Wyoming (UW) Agriculture and Horticulture Extension Educator Scott Cotton while discussing rural disaster preparedness in a recent webinar.

He explained that the transition of more residents to rural areas creates challenges in disaster mitigation that require residents to take a proactive approach.

“Rural residents, as they always have, have to take a little larger role personally in disaster mitigation,” said Cotton.

The main goal of disaster mitigation, which is reducing the impacts and the chances of a disaster occurring, is preventing emergencies from developing into disasters, said Cotton.

“First, we should mention that an emergency is something bad that happens and there are resources capable of responding to it. A disaster is an event that happens that exceeds the capabilities of our resources,” explained Cotton.

The types of disasters seen in rural areas are typically intuitive to residents and may include fires, wildfires, floods, tornados, earthquakes, hurricanes and disease outbreak.

Property risk

It is important for residents to consider multiple evacuation routes out of their property, particularly in the event of wildfires that can rapidly change direction, said Cotton.

“For those who live in wildfire areas, I recommend going to the Wyoming Forest Division’s Firewise materials,” said Cotton. “Firewise provides information on where to stack firewood, how to keep the right composite materials on houses to reduce fire, guidelines for vegetation management and a number of other things to help keep a disaster from occurring.”

Maintaining power can be as simple as purchasing an inexpensive generator and wiring a connection on the outside of the house, Cotton explained.

“We won’t run all of the circuits probably, but we need to run our heater fan, water pumps and probably lights. If we have those three things, we’re probably good,” he said.

Water is another top priority for rural residents to consider with preparing their property for disaster.

“Water is a key thing for surviving disasters. Backup water could be as simple as having life straws in a box where we can take water that’s contaminated and pull it through carbon and ceramic filters to make it potable and drinkable,” continued Cotton.

Cotton also advised that landowners have the equipment needed for the site’s dominant risks, such as plows, snow blowers or boats.

Animal risk

The first priority for emergency responders is human health, said Cotton.

“Often as not, they don’t have the resources or don’t get around to animal risk for a considerable amount of time. It usually falls to the owners,” he continued.

To quickly recover from disasters, it is critical for animals to have legal identification and records.

“During winter storms, wildfires and floods, we see animals displaced as much as 60-70 miles sometimes, and it’s a little difficult for authorities to tell where they came from and for producers to prove ownership if they don’t have those documents,” stressed Cotton.

Cotton also advised that animal owners have alternative shelters and multiple feed locations in the event that animals get trapped away from their primary shelter.

Disease outbreaks can be a side product of other disasters, such as flooding or blizzards, explained Cotton.

“When one group of animals moves into another group of animals without an isolation period, they can carry issues with them,” he said.

It is extremely important to plan multiple options for each disaster type, especially concerning how to transport animals, said Cotton.

“Our encouraged guideline is to have enough equipment that we can move our horses to safety within one hour,” he said. “Often, they do not let people back into a site to make more than one run, so we need to think about what we’ll have to do.”

If producers have livestock on the range that cannot be accessed, Cotton suggested making an agreement with neighbors to care for any animals in each individual’s respective strike zone during the disaster.

Community risk

Cotton noted that disaster mitigation ultimately comes down to rural residents’ ability to respond and survive, which is impacted largely by community involvement.

“Part of the ability to respond is reducing community risk,” said Cotton.

Emergency response alert signals are often used in towns to notify residents. However, many of the signals can not be heard outside of town. In many cases, their range can be expanded with mobile units or if towers are built on private property.

“In some cases, we’ve seen farmers and ranchers out in rural areas actually volunteer space on their property to put up additional towers so that neighbors would be warned if something were to happen,” explained Cotton.

It is also a wise decision for rural residents to sign up for alert texts and email services.

Cotton advised community members to keep contact information for neighbors and local officials in a fireproof and waterproof box, as well as in their mobile phone.

“Check to make sure others are okay. That’s something we can do to increase recovery and survival, even if it’s not someone we usually socialize with,” said Cotton. “If they don’t respond and we have time and means, try to get someone down there to do a welfare check on them.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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