Radon Health Risk
Radon is a Class A carcinogen, which means it is known to cause cancer in humans. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, resulting in approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year. Only smoking causes more lung cancers.
The problem occurs when radon and radon decay products (RDPs) are breathed in. Radon is exhaled, as are many of the RDPs, but some of the RDPs get trapped in the lungs. As they undergo radioactive decay and emit alpha energy, the alpha particles can strike sensitive lung tissue, causing physical and/or chemical damage to the DNA.
When alpha particles strike and damage a lung cell, the cell will either:
Die (which seems like a bad thing, but new cells are generated to replace dead cells)
Repair itself and heal
Try to repair itself, but do so incorrectly. Eventually, this can lead to the formation of cancerous cells.
Not everyone who breathes radon will develop lung cancer.
Your risk is determined by such things as:
How much radon is in your indoor environment.
The amount of time you spend in that indoor environment.
Whether you smoke or ever have smoked.
The only known health effect of radon is an increased risk of lung cancer, and exposure to elevated radon levels does not result in any warning symptoms like headaches, nausea, fatigue, or skin rashes. The only way to know whether you are being exposed to elevated radon levels is to test your home (and other indoor environments).
Many national and international organizations believe radon is an important environmental health concern, and they support testing for radon and reducing exposure to elevated radon levels. Just a few of those organizations are listed below.
- American Lung Association
- American Medical Association
- Centers for Disease Control
- Environmental Protection Agency
- International Commission on Radiological Protection
- National Academy of Science
- National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement
- U.S. Surgeon General
- World Health Organization
Additional risk information is available at several locations online. The U.S. EPA's Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes can be found at their website at http://www.epa.gov/radon/risk_assessment.html.
The U.S. Surgeon General issued a National Health Advisory on Radon on January 13, 2005, warning the American public about the risk of breathing radon.
The National Research Council's Commission on Life Sciences has posted The Health Effects of Exposure to Indoor Radon at https://www.nap.edu/search/?term=The+Health+Effects+of+Exposure+to+Indoor+Radon. This report, commonly known at the BEIR VI report (the sixth report on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation) was released in February of 1998 by the National Academy of Sciences, and represented the most definitive accumulation of scientific radon risk data available at that time. An Executive Summary and a Public Summary are also available at https://www.nap.edu/read/5499/chapter/2