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Radon, Especially In Combination With Smoking, Contributes To Lung Cancer Deaths

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Smokers who are exposed to radon appear to be at even greater risk for lung cancer, because the effects of smoking and radon are more powerful when the two factors are combined, says a new report by a committee of the National Research Council. Indoor radon contributes to about 12 percent of lung cancer deaths each year in the United States.

The report, Health Effects of Exposure to Radon (BEIR VI), is the sixth in a series by the Research Council on the biological effects of ionizing radiation. The report examines data from 11 major studies of underground miners exposed to radon, and new epidemiological data on lung cancer in the general population. Based on these studies, which provide substantially more information than was available for the Research Council's 1988 and 1991 reports on the health effects of radon, the committee developed two models to estimate the number of radon-related lung cancer deaths in the general population. Depending on which model is used, indoor radon contributes to 15,400 or 21,800 of the estimated 157,400 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States, the committee said. The majority of radon-related deaths are among smokers; perhaps 1,200 or 2,900 are among non-smokers.

"Radon -- particularly in combination with smoking -- poses an important public health risk, and it should be recognized as such," said committee chair Jonathan Samet, professor and chair of the department of epidemiology, Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore. "Reducing radon in homes could prevent some lung cancers in this country. In fact, radon reduction may benefit smokers more than non-smokers because of the strong combined effects of smoking and radon."

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that radon levels in homes should be reduced to at least 4 picocuries per liter of air. Some 6 percent of U.S. homes have
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Contact: Molly Galvin, David Schneier
news@nas.edu
202-334-2138
The National Academies
19-Feb-1998


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