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Health Concerns  - Q&A

Do scientists and doctors agree about the lung cancer risk of radon exposure?

For the most part, there is agreement. There is some dispute with regard to the precise number of deaths due to radon induced lung cancer, but you would be hard pressed to find many individuals in the scientific community who think that radon is not a significant health problem.


The EPA recently revised their risk assessment to 21,000 radon induced lung cancer deaths. The new estimate was based on the census done right after the turn of the century. This is an increase of 150% over their 1994 estimate. The American Medical Association, the American Lung Association, the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, and virtually all other health organizations agree that thousands of preventable lung cancer deaths occur every year.

Are children more susceptible than adults?


Yes. As children grow their entire body is developing and growing. They are more sensitive to radon exposure because their lungs are smaller and their respiratory rate is about twice as high. Many doctors believe that by the age of 10 a child has received twice the dose of an adult who has been exposed to the same amount of radon over the same period of time.


Does radon cause other types of cancer?


There is not definitive research that points to radon inducing other cancers. We do know, however, that surviving lung cancer patients are often stricken with other forms of cancer.  While the other cancers cannot be attributed to radon, they are often a direct result of the previous cancer growth that may well have been caused by radon exposure.


How do they know that it is radon causing these health problems?


Scientists use what they call biomarkers to identify and quantify exposure to radon. Biomarkers are indicators that signal specific events within individual biological systems.


Biomarkers of exposure to radon and its progeny (often referred to as “daughters”) include the presence of radon daughters in certain body tissues and fluids. Presence of radon and radon daughters are found in bone, teeth, hair, urine, blood, lung tissue, and even brain tissue. These biomarkers deposited in various systems of the body show that radon does, in fact, become absorbed by the body and impart gamma (and other) radiation as it further degrades.

Dose radon cause health problems other than lung cancer?


A new study performed at the University of Nebraska has raised some new concerns in the minds of many researchers. While we know that radon increases the risk of lung cancer science has not, until recently, been linked to disease in other parts of the body. Dr. Berislav Momcilvic and Professor Glenn Lykken who led the study, assert that indoor radon gas has the destructive ability to infect the brain with radioactive heavy metal particles that may act as a basis for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.


What they found was that when radon gas is inhaled it can accumulate in lipid tissue throughout the body with the highest concentration in the brain, bone marrow, and the nervous system. It does not pass quickly out of the lungs when we exhale as once thought.  Instead, it lingers harmfully in the body where some of it accumulates in the brain resulting in increased gamma ray emissions from Bismuth-214 (one of radon’s radioactive decay products (daughters)).


Scientists have recently noted the presence of radioactive (radon daughter) particles in the brains of non-smoking individuals afflicted with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Studies have shown that prevalence of radon was 10 times greater than it was in the brains of persons with no previous evidence of neurological disorders.


As further evidence that radon exposure may be a significant contributor to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, according to D.J. Lansak of he University of Kentucky, the geographic distribution of Parkinson’s disease mortality is considerably higher in states with greater radon potential.


I live in a newly constructed home. Is it true that I don’t have to worry about radon?


No. Not true. Radon intrusion can be a problem in all types of homes. new homes, old homes, drafty homes, well insulated homes, homes with basements, and homes on slab all can have hazardous levels of radon.


There are a number of factors that determine the level of radon in homes. The most significant is the geology of the area (the amount of uranium in the soil, porosity of the soil, etc.). But construction materials, how the home was built, and other factors certainly can contribute.  We never know until we test for it what the level will actually be.


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