Montana State University

MSU nursing professor wins $350,000 grant to study deadly radon

September 17, 2010 -- MSU News Service

Laura Larsson, an assistant professor at Montana State University's College of Nursing, has won a $350,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study how to reduce radon exposure among low-income people. Photo courtesy of Laura Larsson.   High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
Laura Larsson, an assistant professor at Montana State University's College of Nursing, has won a $350,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study how to reduce radon exposure among low-income people.

The research could help prevent lung cancer and narrow health disparities. Larsson is one of just 12 nurse educators from around the country to receive the three-year Nurse Faculty Scholar award this year. It is given to junior faculty who show outstanding promise as future leaders in academic nursing.
(Read: RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars Address Pressing Health Issues)

"The support I receive will give me the time and mentoring that I need to find ways to protect people from exposure to harmful levels of radon, the second leading cause of lung cancer," Larsson said.

Radon, a decay product of uranium, has been found in dangerously high concentrations in the West and other mountainous regions of the country. Testing for harmful levels of the colorless, odorless gas often occurs during real-estate transactions. However, because low-income people are more likely to rent instead of purchase their homes, they are less likely to test for the presence of radon, Larsson said. Larsson plans to test strategies that she hopes will encourage low-income tenants to purchase subsidized radon home test kits and test for high levels of the noxious gas.

Larsson plans to place flat screen monitors in the waiting rooms of two county offices of government programs in Montana's Gallatin and Ravalli counties that provide food subsidies for women, infants and children. One of the flat-screen panels will post information about radon and the availability of reduced-price radon test kits. The other will provide general messages about health and safety. Larsson's goal is to determine whether messages on strategically placed digital bulletin boards lead to an increase in the purchase of home test kits and completed testing.

"Radon is a silent enemy that does not get a lot of attention," Larsson said. "I hope to educate more people about the harmful effects of radon so we can reduce the rate of lung cancer and narrow health disparities. My long-term goal is to see radon testing incorporated into housing regulations regarding rental properties."

Helen Melland, dean of MSU's College of Nursing, and Allen Harmsen, a professor and research associate in MSU's Department of Veterinary Molecular Biology/Molecular Biosciences Program, will serve as Larsson's mentors.

"Unlike other health hazards such as smoking and drunk driving, harmful levels of radon are not found in every part of the country," Melland said. "That makes it difficult to attract attention to the problem and set national goals to reduce exposure levels. Dr. Larsson's findings can be used to find out how to call attention to the problem and educate vulnerable populations about how to prevent exposure."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars program aims to strengthen nursing education and develop the next generation of national leaders. The program provides talented junior faculty with salary and research support, as well as the chance to participate in institutional and national mentoring activities, leadership training, and networking events with colleagues in nursing and other fields, while continuing to teach and provide institutional, professional and community service in their universities.

To receive the award, scholars must be registered nurses who have completed a research doctorate in nursing or a related discipline and who have held a tenure-eligible faculty position at an accredited nursing school for at least two and no more than five years.

To learn more about the program, visit

Laura Larsson, (406) 994-7504 or