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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.Representation of Radon affecting the lungs causing lung cancer

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.

Additional 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 version), British Medical Journal, 2005;  Krewski et al (exit DHS), Epidemiology, 2005.

EPA RISK ESTIMATES (BASED ON 1999 NAS REPORT) 

FOR 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:

Average Radon 

Lifetime Risk of Lung Cancer 
(per person) from Radon 

pCi/L

Persons who Never Smoked

Current Smokers 

8

 14 in 1,000

 12 in 100

4

 7 in 1,000

 6 in 100

2

 3.5 in 1,000

 3 in 100

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 as high. 

For former smokers, the risks are between those shown for smokers and never-smokers.  

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 (exit DHS) about Radon is available on the State of Pennsylvania's website.  After viewing, please return to our site for information for Wisconsin.

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Report on Radon from National Academy of Sciences Strongly Supports EPA's Lung Cancer Risk Assessment

According to a 500-page report, "Health Effects of Exposure to Radon, BEIR VI"(exit DHS), 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 (exit DHS).

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