Potential health effects of indoor radon exposure

  • Radford E
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Abstract

Radon-222 is a ubiquitous noble gas arising from decay of radium-226 normally present in the earth's crust. Alpha radiation from inhaled short-lived daughters of radon readily irradiates human bronchial epithelium, and there is now good evidence of excess risk of lung cancer in underground miners exposed to higher concentrations. In homes, radon levels are highly variable, showing approximately log-normal distributions and often a small fraction of homes with high concentrations of radon and radon daughters. Factors affecting indoor concentrations include type of bedrock under dwellings, house foundation characteristics, radon dissolved in artesian water, and ventilation and degree of air movement in living spaces. Despite much recent work, exposures to radon daughters by the general public are not well defined. From application of risk assessments in miners to home conditions, it appears that about 25% or more of lung cancers among nonsmokers over the age of 60, and about 5% in smokers, may be attributable to exposure to radon daughters at home. It may be necessary to take remedial action to reduce this hazard in those dwellings with elevated levels of radon, and new construction should take account of this problem.

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Authors

  • E. P. Radford

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