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Originally published October 15 2009

Radon in Homes is the Second Leading Cause of Lung Cancer

by Tom Mosakowski

(NaturalNews) It is well known that the main cause of lung cancer among smokers is their cigarettes, but unbeknownst to many is that this cancer develops in a large number of nonsmokers. The leading cause of lung cancer for nonsmokers is exposure to radon in the home. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 3-14% of lung cancer cases are caused by low- and medium-level exposure to radon in homes. This makes it the second leading cause of lung cancer (1).

Recently, the WHO recommended that countries set an "action level" of 2.7 picocuries per liter for removing radon. This is lower than the 4 picocuries per liter level set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) two decades ago. However, the EPA acknowledges that it is wise to take action if test shows 2 picocuries per liter or higher. The acting director of radiation and indoor air, Tom Kelly, said, "There is no threshold level in which radon is safe...There's a lot of risk below 2.7; there's a lot of risk below four."

The important thing is that people should understand the risk, test their homes and if necessary, carry out the relatively inexpensive fixes to reduce their exposure. Kelly estimated 15% of homes would show high radon if tested. It's best to test homes when they have low humidity and are closed, which is in the cooler months.

There are relatively inexpensive and easy methods any homeowner can perform to reduce radon levels in the home instead of paying the higher cost for professionals. (According to the EPA, the cost to hire a radon-mitigation contractor averages $1,200.) A test kit at a hardware store costs about $10. Plastic piping can be installed to bring air from outside in, thus diluting a buildup of radon gas. Also, concrete sealers can be used to prevent radon from entering the home.

Radon gas is produced by decay of uranium in soil and enters homes via cracks in floors and foundation walls, or slab openings for sump pumps and plumbing. The gas has no color, odor or taste and as a result exposure can occur for many years without a person suspecting its presence. In this way, it is unlike other home pollutants such as carbon monoxide, where health effects are felt shortly after initial exposure. Radon is produced in virtually every type of soil or rock, but particularly high levels often occur where there are large deposits of limestone, granite, sandstone, shale and clays (2).

The element radon, a noble gas with atomic number 86, is carcinogenic because of its smaller radioactive decay particles called radon progeny (3). These fine, solid particles are inhaled; they attach to the lungs' inner lining, accumulate over time, and continue to decay into smaller products. The decay products create free radicals and damage DNA. Radiation-induced lung cancer is often the result.

Radon has been perceived to be not nearly as hazardous as it truly is. Perhaps this is because people do not become impassioned very much from natural products with health effects that are not easily observable.

(1)Razzi, Elizabeth. Reducing Radon's Toll. October 3, 2009. <

(2)Hass, Marilyn L. Contemporary Issues in Lung Cancer: A Nursing Perspective. 2nd ed. 2010. Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

(3) Toxicological Profile for Radon. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. U.S. Public Health Service in collaboration with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. December 1990.

About the author

Tom Mosakowski, B.S. Biochemistry.

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