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Elizabeth Fracica

MPH student Elizabeth Fracica fights indoor radon with policy.

Elizabeth Fracica was eager to renew her Minnesota apartment lease in May 2015, until she asked if the dwelling had ever been tested for radon gas. The landlord’s careless reply—“No, not my responsibility.”—roused Fracica, a medical student, to protect renters from high radon levels.

Long-term exposure to the odorless, colorless gas—occurring naturally from decaying uranium in the soil—is known to cause lung cancer and kills about 20,000 Americans each year. With testing tools and home protection strategies in existence, “it seems silly that anybody should be dying from radon in this country,” Fracica says.

It was the Bloomberg School MPH program that fully equipped and empowered her to act. “I’m a doer,” says Fracica, who enrolled in June 2015. “Synthesizing all the knowledge and skills from my classes enabled me to do something about this.”

Notably, a risk sciences course with Keeve Nachman, PhD, taught her how to present the issue to policymakers. Fracica drafted a policy that requires landlords to increase transparency regarding prior radon testing (if any), the results of the testing, whether mitigation was performed, and provide information on local resources before renters sign the lease.

With the backing of both the Minnesota Medical Association and the American Medical Association Medical Student Section, Fracica has joined forces with State Senator Carla J. Nelson (R) and her legislative staff in Minnesota to introduce a bill to the House of Delegates during the 2016 session.

“I’m impressed with her work,” says Nachman, director of the Food Production and Public Health Program at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. “If the bill is passed, it seems like it will afford radon protections to renters in the state of Minnesota.” 

For Fracica, confronting the radon issue is just the beginning. “I don’t think medical students and physicians do a good enough job of translating research into actual public health policy and advocacy efforts,” she says, “I want to bridge the gap between the two—and now I know how.”

—Salma Warshanna-Sparklin

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