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Radon is second leading cause of lung cancer death


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Jon Echternacht, Hudson Star-Observer

Published Friday, October 19, 2007

Although smoking leads the list of contributors to lung cancer, second place belongs to a natural element ahead of second-hand smoke.

Radon, an odorless, tasteless, invisible and naturally occurring gas, has become the second leading cause of lung cancer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The radioactive gas gets into the air and, when taken into the lungs, causes disease, the EPA said.

The EPA estimated about 21,000 lung cancer deaths were caused by radon in a 2003 assessment of risks. The U.S. surgeon general lists radon as the second leading cause of lung cancer — behind smoking — in the country today.

The number represented more deaths than those caused by drunken driving, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control.

Radon is found all over the country. It enters the home through the indoor air, water supply and soil. Radon entering through the soil is usually a much larger risk than through water, said the EPA.

Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown (radioactive decay) of uranium. Most soils contain varying amounts of uranium. It is usually found in igneous rock and soil, but in some cases, well water may also be a source of radon

We wanted to know more so engaged in an e-mail conversation with Ian Williams, a geophysicist and geology professor at UW-River Falls.

Professor Williams claimed not to be an expert on radon, but as a rock scientist we were sure he knew a heck of a lot more than the average Joe about the subject.

“Radon gas is colorless, tasteless, odorless and actually inert, but very soluble and radioactive. It emits alpha particles, which is what causes the cell damage that leads to cancer,” he replied. Lung cancer often has a 10-25-year gestation period.

Professor Williams said that we absorb radon from groundwater, construction materials and directly via our basements if we live on rocks that contain significant amounts of uranium, particularly basement rocks (i.e. metamorphic and igneous rocks).

“In the Twin Cities area we live directly on platform sedimentary rocks such as dolostones, sandstones and thin shales — it’s the shales that may contain minerals that could contribute to radon,” he said.

The professor said Taylors Falls to the north sits on a bed of basalt which probably contributes more radon. Living on granite such as in North Central Wisconsin, is probably even a worse scenario for radon.

The EPA estimates 8 million homes in the country may have hazardous radon levels. And the element could contribute to about one-seventh of the total lung cancer deaths each year. The American Cancer Society estimated the number of deaths from smoking at 160,000 a year in 2004. The EPA urges that all homes be tested for radon regardless of geographic location.

For more information on radon risks and testing, consult www.epa.gov/radon

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Hey Christine,

I went to the Web page you shared below and here is what is said:

The requested item was not found

on the EPA's Web Server.

Please return to the previous page and use the comment link there to report this broken link. If you do not see a link above or your browser does not support the above link, use the comments page to describe your problem to the EPA's Internet Support.

When contacting us, please include the following information:

the Internet address of the missing file (ex. URL: http://www.epa.gov/radon.) and/or

the Internet address of the file containing the non-working links (ex. http://lchelp.org/l_community/viewtopic.php?t=33481)

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