For years we have heard about the risks of radon inhalation impacting health and potentially causing lung cancer. According to the EPA, radon has caused thousands of deaths annually and along with cigarette smoking is a major cause for lung cancer. While it is true that inhaling high levels of radon is dangerous, such levels are typically present in underground areas such as mine shafts, not residential homes.
Certainly, large amounts of radon, can damage to the lungs because radon gases can cause cellular breakdown, altering the DNA which results in cell mutations and lead to cancer.
What Prompted the Radon Scare?
Several years ago, the threat of radon gained recognition when statistics indicated that miners working in radon filled areas were contracting lung cancer more frequently than average. The EPA took action and set the radon safety limit at 4 picocuries and began advising radon testing in homes. And while this LNT, “linear no-threshold” model, was not scientifically backed, it worked out well for the EPA financially.
It was this recommended testing along with a specific occurrence in the mid 1980s when Stanley Watras, an employee of the Limerick Nuclear Plant, began triggering alarms as he entered the building. Authorities tested him as well as his home for radiation and radon levels, only to discover they exceeded the “safety levels” set by the EPA levels. The interesting part is that his situation was unique because his home was built on a geological formation that had higher than normal radon levels, yet this information was not so quickly shared with the public.
What is Radon?
Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that is naturally occurring. It exists outside as well as in our homes and the very air we breathe has some level of radon. The gas is released from decaying uranium, an element found in rocks and soils everywhere on the planet. Since radon is produced naturally and dispersed into the air, levels are typically minimal. However, if they do become trapped inside of a building or home, its presence can exceed safety levels.
EPA Model Flawed
Following the design of the LNT model and standards set by EPA, very little research was ever conducted to test the connection of lung cancer and the homes tested for radon. Scientists had long questioned its validity due to the absence of firm data. Then in 2003, the EPA stated that the LNT model was not without fault.
Fortunately, recent scientific studies have found that low radon exposure is not a major risk, as stated an article published in the Dose-Response Journal. Not only is this current research backed by advanced scientific data, it determined lung cancer diagnoses are not routinely connected with normal radon exposure.
Further, according to Dr. Jerry Cutler and Dr. Charles Sanders, authors of the recent findings, state that the EPA LNT model caused people undue fear and unnecessary costs. Also, the radon remediation process actually increases cancer risk and mortality. Essentially, the public has been misled and misinformed for more than fifty years, using these scare tactics. But because the US Surgeon General, the American Lung Association, and the CDC endorse the EPAs LNT model, they have yet to make any significant changes.
While radon can pose danger and has the potential to cause lung cancer due to its carcinogenic effects, the hype has been exaggerated and it is anticipated that EPA radon funding will be cut by the Trump administration.
Should you have questions or concerns regarding radon, contact your local home inspector.