RADON AND LUNG CANCER – CAUSES AND PREVENTION

To start off this article, you need to first understand what Radon is. So, what is Radon? Radon is an odorless, colorless, radioactive gas. It is formed naturally from the decay of radioactive elements like uranium that are found in distinct amounts in the soil. Radon gas from rocks and the soil can move into the underground water and surface.

Radon can be found both indoors and outdoors. It is usually found at low levels in the air outdoors plus in drinking water from lakes and rivers. It can also be located in higher levels in indoor air as well as in water from the underground like well water.

Individuals can be exposed to radon in a multitude of ways from multiple sources. This article will explain more about that. Also, we will talk about what you can do if you happen to be exposed to radon or if you discover high levels of radon in your home or workplace.

 

Exposure to Radon

Radon is available in nearly all air. Most of us breathe in radon on a daily basis, but at very low levels. However, individuals that are exposed to higher radon levels are at risk of developing lung cancer. Radon can get into homes through cracks/penetrations in walls, floors, or foundations. It can also be released from water obtained from wells, or building materials that contain radon. Well insulated and tightly sealed homes are more likely to contain higher levels of radon. Because of their closeness to the ground, basement and first floors are reported to have the highest radon levels.

 

A Deeper Look into the Common Sources of Radon Exposure

  • Building Materials

Building materials such as silicone-rich magmatic rocks like granite, cement, gypsum waste products, pumice, basaltic rock, and concrete are major causes of radon exposure.

  • Well Water

The risk of radon exposure from water is usually very low. However, deep wells dug through walls that contain high radium concentration might contain some levels of radon. We encourage you that if you get your water from well water, make sure that it has been tested for radon. Testing can be done here.

  • Contaminated Air Through Cracks

Air contaminated with radon might find a way through your home via cracks on walls, floors, and the foundation. Radon levels are usually very high in rooms close to the ground. Therefore, if you spend a lot of time in basement rooms, then you risk for exposure could be higher.

  • Certain Clocks and Watches

Some clocks and watches can also contribute to heightened exposure to radon. If you own a luminous dial, it most likely contains Tritium. Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen. That watch could also contain Promethium, a man-made radioactive element. These two compounds are known to release a lot of radon. However, the risk from this is very low.

  • Smoke Detectors

Home smoke detectors are usually in three categories: photoelectric type, ionization type, and detectors with both types of sensing mechanisms. Although ionization smoke detectors are commonly used due to their low price, they emit some levels or radon. You should thus be careful when purchasing smoke detectors for home use.

  • Granite Countertops
  • Picture of a granite counter top

Granite countertops are also known to release some levels of radon into the atmosphere. However, according to most radiation and health experts, although granite countertops release radon, it is usually in very low amounts. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, it is very unlikely for a granite countertop to emit radon above normal levels. However, if you are concerned about radon emission from countertops and other household sources, you can test for these levels using a home detection kit or hire professionals to help you. You can hire some professionals to do this here.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average level of indoor radon is around 1.3 picocuries per liter. If your radon level is above 4.0 picocuries per liter, then you should make the needed efforts to lower these levels. It is estimated that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in America has high levels of radon.

  • Radon Exposure in the Workplace

Some workplaces have the potential of making their workers get exposed to radon. Workers like miners are more likely to be exposed to radon more than other types of workers. Numerous lung problems have been and continue to be reported by miners. Research conducted in the 1950s and 1960s confirmed that there is a link between radon exposure and lung cancer. Higher levels of exposure to radon are more likely to be seen in miners that work with uranium.

 

Does Radon Cause Cancer?

Exposure to radon for a long time has the potential of causing lung cancer. Radon from the air breaks down into small radioactive components that can bind in the lining of the lungs, and later on give off radiation. Radiation can cause lung cell damage leading to lung cancer. Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer in the United States, and Radon comes in second. Medical studies show that 20,000 lung cancer cells per year are radon-related.

Exposure to both radon and cigarette smoke leads to an even greater risk of developing lung cancer. In fact, most radon-related lung cancer are seen in smokers. Nevertheless, radon is also seen to be a major cause of lung-cancer deaths in non-smokers in the U.S each year. Research also shows that exposure to radon can also be linked to other kinds of cancer like childhood leukemia. However, the evidence of these links is mixed and is not as strong as that of lung cancer. This is because, radon is absorbed via inhalation and since the radiation travels a short distance, it is very rare that radon could affect other tissues inside the body.

 

Evidence that Radon Causes Lung Cancer

Studies have been conducted in both people and in the lab to show that radon causes lung cancer. Here is an in depth look at this.

Studies in People

According to research done in people, radon has the potential of causing lung cancer. Have a look at the studies conducted:

  • Studies of individuals working in mines with high radon exposure.
  • Studies comparing radon amounts in houses of individuals with lung cancer to levels in the houses of similar people without lung cancer.
  • Studies comparing lung cancer deaths or cases in areas with distinct amounts of radon exposure.

All these studies confirm that exposure to radon increases risks of lung cancer. They also show that the risk of lung cancer from radon is especially high in smokers.

  • Studies in the Lab

Studies in lab animals have also depicted increased risk of lung cancer on exposure to radon. According to the studies, breathing in radon and its progeny increased the risk of lung tumors. The risk is higher if the animal breaths in radon and cigarette smoke. In some other animals, exposure to radon heightened the risk of other cancers. Lab studies that were done using human cells show that radon and its progeny caused cellular damage. These kind of damage is often seem in cancerous cells.

 

What Experts Have to Say about Radon and Lung Cancer

Various agencies, national and international, study distinct substances in the environment to determine whether they can cause cancer. Based on human and animal evidence, most of these agencies have identified a connection between radon and lung cancer. Let us have a look at more information about this.

  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)

This is agency is part of the World Health Organization. One of its main aims is to identify causes of cancer. Based on its research, radon and its progeny causes lung cancer. IARC classifies radon and its progeny as “carcinogens to humans”.

  • The National Toxicology Program (NTP)

This agency is formed from parts of various US government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NTP has also classified radon and its progeny as “known to be human carcinogens”.

 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

This agency is tasked with monitoring the effect of various substances in the environment to humans. According to EPA, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. This makes radon the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. EPA estimates 20,000 radon-caused lung cancer deaths every year.

In Canada, it is Health Canada who acts as the authority behind radon studies, guidelines, and education.

 

How to Avoid Radon Exposure

Since you now know that radon can be dangerous to you, it is now time to look at how you can avoid getting exposed to radon. Here are some things you can do to lower your exposure.

  • At Home

Radon exposure mostly happens at homes. Therefore, you should consider checking radon levels in your house to determine whether you need to lower them. You can do this by the use of a Do-it-yourself radon detection kit. You can order this via the main or purchase it in your nearest home supply store. These kits are kept at home for some time and then mailed to a lab for analysis.

More often than not, short-term kits are usually left in a place for some few days before getting mailed. However, long-term detectors are left in place for about three months. These are known to give more accurate results compared to short-term ones. It is recommended that all levels below 3rd floor be tested for radon including those houses built to be “radon-resistant”. You can also consider hiring a professional to test radon levels for you. You can find a professional here.

If test results show radon levels of 200 Bq/m³, you should take the necessary measures to reduce these levels in your home area.

 

Methods to Reduce Radon Levels in Your Home

The following are techniques you can incorporate to reduce the amount of radon in your home:

Sealing Cracks

Since most radon gets into the house through cracks on the floor and on the walls, you can seal these cracks to reduce this. You can also increase ventilation through “sub-slab depressurization” using fans and pipes. Since doing all these is very technical, it is recommended that you get a qualified contractor to help you.

Without the right expertise and equipment, you could end up increasing radon levels or creating other hazards. Due to this, consider hiring a professional contractor to help you out.

 

Reducing Radon in the Workplace

Federal agencies like Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) sets limits on radon and progeny exposure in the workplace. Owing to the fact that radon is highly known to be a health hazard, underground mines now measures to reduce radon levels. For those that might be exposed to radon while working, it is critical for them to follow certain safety procedures. If you have a feeling that your exposure is above normal limits, then do not hesitate to report this to your workplace safety officer.

 

World Health Organization’s Response to Radon Exposure

In the year 2009, WHO published the “WHO handbook on indoor radon: A public health perspective”. This handbook offers policies for reducing health risks emanated from residential radon exposure through. The policies entail:

  • Providing information related to levels of radon indoors and the related health risks.
  • Implementing prevention of radon in building codes to minimize radon levels in homes being constructed and coming up with radon programs to ensure radon levels are below national reference levels.
  • Developing radon measurement methods to ensure consistency and quality radon testing.

 

What to do if Exposed to Radon

There are no common medical tests to measure whether you have had any exposure to radon. If you smoke and are exposed to radon, it is very vital that you quit smoking as soon as possible. The combined effects of radon exposure and cigarette smoking raise risks of lung cancer.

If you think that you could have been exposed to radon in high amounts for a long time, then consider talking to your physician. The doctor will advise you on the way forward and also diagnose whether you could have any signs of lung cancer. If any of these signs show up, then immediate treatment will be needed.

In case you start experiencing symptoms of lung cancer like pain or tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, hoarseness, a new or worsening cough, or trouble swallowing, then you should see a doctor immediately and explain these symptoms.

 

Conclusion

According to research and studies conducted on both humans and animals, radon has the potential of causing lung cancer. In fact, it is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. This means that radon is the number one cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. Looking at this, we need to take the right measures to reduce radon exposures. This article lists the major sources of radon and how you can prevent them. By eliminating all these causes, you can be assured of reduced radon levels and therefore lower the risk of developing lung cancer.

 

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