Lung Cancer and Radon
Indoor Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking,
according to a 1999 report (exit
DHS) from the National Academy of Sciences. The United States
Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Surgeon General strongly
recommend that all homes be tested for radon, and if a problem exists,
corrective action be taken.
Radon is not an irritant to the eyes
or nose, nor is it an allergen. The only risk from radon in air is lung
cancer, after many years of breathing it.
Four picoCuries per Liter (4 pCi/L) is
the US EPA’s action guideline for radon concentrations in air of
occupied spaces. When long-term exposures of residents are higher, action
should be taken to reduce them.
Confirmation of the Risk
According to a
National Cancer Institute fact
sheet (exit DHS): “Studies showing a link
between radon and lung cancer in humans include studies of underground
uranium miners and of the general population
exposed to radon in their homes.” The
latter is a new, significant result, from pooled results of measurements
of radon in homes of persons with lung cancer and radon in homes of
matched controls. The pooled
results show statistically significant differences, confirming the risk
estimates from studies of underground miners: Darby
et al (exit DHS) (pdf
Medical Journal, 2005; Krewski
et al (exit DHS), Epidemiology,
RISK ESTIMATES (BASED ON 1999 NAS REPORT)
LONG-TERM RADON EXPOSURES IN HOMES
The lung cancer risk,
accumulated over a lifetime (75 years) from breathing four pCi/L in
one’s home, depends on an individual’s smoking history:
of Lung Cancer
(per person) from Radon
who Never Smoked
These assume one spends 70% of the time indoors, breathing the
indicated radon concentrations for many years. The
risk is proportional to the cumulative radon exposure through time.
For one year of exposure, the risk would be about 1/75th
For former smokers, the risks are between those shown for smokers and
Because of a latency time for lung cancer to develop -and the
cumulative nature of the risk, there is little chance that someone could
get lung cancer from radon before age 35, although exposures before that
age contribute to the risk in later ages. The average loss of life
expectancy per lung cancer death is about fifteen years (out of 75).
An animated video
about Radon is available on the State of Pennsylvania's website. After viewing, please
return to our site for information for Wisconsin.
Report on Radon from
National Academy of Sciences Strongly Supports EPA's Lung Cancer Risk
According to a 500-page report, "Health
Effects of Exposure to Radon, BEIR VI"(exit
published by the National Academy of Sciences in 1999, indoor radon is
probably responsible for about 15,000 to 20,000 lung cancer deaths in the
United States per year, and roughly one-third of them are preventable.
The National Academy of Sciences is an autonomous body of 1800 of the
nation’s top scientists that advises the Federal government on
scientific and technical issues affecting policy. This report is from their
committee of 12 of the best experts, and was reviewed before
publication by an equally large group. You can't get a more comprehensive,
technically-competent overall assessment of the risk from radon.
Consideration of studies, which you may have heard indicate the risk
from radon is much lower than EPA says, is included in this report.
Individual studies are put into context with their statistical
significance and all other relevant considerations. Masses of data are
assembled, and re-analyzed in some cases. No single research study is
relied upon, but rather a quality- and significance-weighted overall
picture of all research results is presented. Included
are the epidemiology studies up to 1999, and animal, laboratory genetics
and radiobiology studies.
For further information about radon and lung cancer see the EPA radon
web page, http://www.epa.gov/radon/index.html
High levels of radon are dangerous to you and your family. When
follow-up radon measurements in occupied levels of your home confirm the
radon exposures are high, you
should take bids on radon mitigation work by professionals included on the
lists of certified Radon Mitigation Contractors. Having this work done
will protect your family and it will increase the value of your house.
Back to Radon Home Page
Last Revised: December 18, 2013