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Health Effects


Elevated levels of indoor radon increases the risk of lung cancer.

Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped into your lungs when you breathe.  As they break down further , these particles release small bursts of energy.  This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime.  Not everyone exposed to elevated levels of radon will develop lung cancer.  And the amount of time between exposure and the onset of the disease may be many years.

Like other environmental pollutants, there is some uncertainty about the magnitude of radon health risks. However, scientists know more about radon risks than risks from most other cancer-causing substances.  This is because estimates of radon risks are based on studies of cancer in humans (underground miners).

Smoking combined with radon is an especially serious health risk.

Children have been reported to have a greater risk that adults of certain types of cancer from radiation, but there are currently no conclusive data on whether children are at greater risk than adults from radon.

Your chances of getting lung cancer from radon depend mostly on:

  • How much radon is in your home
  • The amount of time you spend in your home
  • Whether you are a smoker or have ever smoked

Radon Risk If You Smoke*:

About 260 people could get lung cancer

250 times the risk of drowning

Fix your home

About 150 people could get lung cancer

200 times the risk of dying in a home fire

Fix your home

About 120 people could get lung cancer

30 times the risk of dying in a fall

Fix your home

About 62 people could get lung cancer

5 times the risk of dying in an car crash

Fix your home

About 32 people could get lung cancer

6 times the risk of dying from poison

Consider fixing between 2 and 4 pCi/L

About 20 people could get lung cancer

(Average indoor radon level)

Reducing radon levels below 2 pCi/L is difficult

 

(Average outdoor radon level)

*These lung cancers are in addition to the normal occurrence of lung cancer in the absence of radon.  Without any radon exposure, 123 people out of 1,000 male smokers would be expected to get lung cancer; or 58 people out of 1,000 female smokers would be expected to get lung cancer. (BEIR IV Report, National Academy Press, 1988)

Radon Risk If You've Never Smoked**:

About 36 people could get lung cancer

35 times the risk of drowning

Fix your home

About 18 people could get lung cancer

20 times the risk of dying in a home fire

Fix your home

About 15 people could get lung cancer

4 times the risk of dying in a fall

Fix your home

About 7 people could get lung cancer

The risk of dying is a car crash

Fix your home

About 4 people could get lung cancer

The risk of dying from poison

Consider fixing between 2 and 4 pCi/L

About 2 people could get lung cancer

(Average indoor radon level)

Reducing radon levels below 2 pCi/L is difficult

 

(Average outdoor radon level)

**These lung cancers are in addition to the normal occurrence of lung cancer in the absence of radon.  Without any radon exposure, 11 people out of 1,000 male smokers would be expected to get lung cancer; or 6 people out of 1,000 female smokers would be expected to get lung cancer. (BEIR IV Report, National Academy Press, 1988)


Radiological Health Program | James Madison Building, 7th Floor | 109 Governor Street,  Room 730 | Richmond, VA  23219 | Telephone (804) 864-8150 | Fax: (804) 864-8155


Last Updated: 07-30-2011

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