Dr. Scott Burns

Geology Lecture: Radon – the Invisible Geological Killer

Anne Matthews News

Coos Bay, OR – Southwestern Oregon Community College’s popular Geology Lecture Series continues virtually with Dr. Scott Burns, speaking about “Radon – the Invisible Geological Killer” at 7 p.m., Saturday, March 13, 2021, via Livestream at the college website (https://livestream.com/swocc/geology2020-21).

A professor emeritus of geology at Portland State University (PSU), Dr. Burns specializes in engineering and environmental geology, soils, geomorphology, Quaternary Geology and terroir. Radon is a natural, invisible, tasteless and non-smelling gas that naturally comes out of the ground all over the world. It gets trapped in homes as we try to conserve heat, and the EPA now tells us that this radioactive gas causes 20% of all of the lung cancer deaths in North America. Scott Burns has led a team of students at Portland State University for 30 years studying this problem. His talk will discuss how radon gas is formed, how one can test for it, and if the levels are high, how one mitigates it. It is easy to test for and easy to mitigate – no one needs to be dying from it.

Dr. Burns will discuss the factors that affect the amount of radon in the home: geology under the house, the soil permeability, groundwater, and construction of the house. Geological conditions that lead to high radon production are rocks (such as granite, phosphate rocks and dark shales), landslides and faults. Short- and long-term tests determine the levels of radon in the home. The EPA says the “action level” is 4.0 picocuries per liter above which a home should be mitigated. He will show how radon susceptibility maps are produced for zip codes in the state of Oregon. He will explain about the outreach that is happening in Oregon to get everyone to test their houses.

Dr. Burns received his bachelor and master’s degrees from Stanford University and a PhD from the University of Colorado. He has taught in Switzerland, New Zealand, Washington, Colorado, and Louisiana; and is author or co-author of two books, more than 80 articles and 200 published abstracts. His broad-reaching research topics are diverse, analyzing landslides, debris flow, radon and earthquake hazard mapping, heavy metals and trace elements in soils, loess stratigraphy, slope stability, Missoula Floods, biogeomorphology (pocket gophers, tree throw, and ants), and alpine soil development.

Of his many honors, Dr. Burns received the Public Service Award from the Geological Society of America (GSA) given annually to a member who reaches out to the public about geology, and the Meritorious Service Award (2006) from the Engineering Geology Division (EGD) of GSA. He has won many other awards for outstanding teaching, with the most significant being the Faculty Senate Chair Award at Louisiana Tech University in 1987, the Distinguished Faculty Award from the PSU Alumni Association in 2001, and the George Hoffmann Award from PSU in 2007. He actively helps local TV and radio stations, and newspapers bring important geological news to the public.

Additional talks scheduled in the series this year include: Dr. Jessica Labonté (Texas A & M) discussing nutrients and life in coastal sediments on Friday, April 9 and concluding with a double header of IRIS/SSA Distinguished Lecturers on Tuesday May 11 with Dr. Guoqinq Lin (University of Miami) with “The 2018 Kilauea Volcano Eruption: Expected or a Surprise?” at 3:00 pm and Dr. Ben Holtzman (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University) with “Seismology with your Ears: Listening to Patterns in Tectonic, Volcanic and Human-induced Earthquakes?” at approximately 4:15 pm.

All lectures in the series are free. Current plans for the 2020-21 series are for talks to be streamed live from the college website via Livestream and also archived for future viewing at: https://livestream.com/swocc/geology2020-21. Lecture Series Sponsors include: DB Western, Southwestern Foundation, The Mill Casino, IRIS/SSA, Ocean Discovery Lecture Series and the College.

For additional information (or to submit questions prior to the talk) contact Ron Metzger at [email protected] or 541-888-7216.