Radon Gas

 

The leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers happens to be due to a naturally occurring radioactive gas called radon.  Uranium which is found in rock all over the earth’s crust in small amounts decays over time into radium which then releases the gas.  The higher the concentration of uranium the greater likelihood of having an issue.  Radon gas is very heavy so it escapes from the ground and will be most concentrated below your knees.  Outdoors the gas freely dissipates into the atmosphere and is unable to collect in dangerous concentrations.  Inside, however, radon gas can enter a building through the crawlspace or foundation and accumulate to unsafe levels.  Because of this historically radon exposure was related to mostly cold environments where the population would spend a great deal of their time indoors.  In our modern age, however hot environments such as the South also force much of the population to seek refuge indoors with air conditioning.  It has been estimated that the average North American spends 86% of their lives indoors, and that was before lockdowns.  This combined with new construction trends like greater square footage, greater ceiling height, reduced window openings, and ever improving R-values all increase radon risk.  A study published in Nature has shown an increase in radon exposure to the population over time due to all these trends.

Radon gas combined with cigarette smoking is about as good a recipe for lung cancer as humanity has ever come across.  Ionizing radiation from the decaying radon particles damages our DNA and create genomic instability which leads to cancer.  Approximately 3% of the population also has a genetic mutation which causes increased radiation sensitivity making them further susceptible to this runaway cascade.

Excessive exposure comes with a cost and we can look to Hollywood for a great example of that.  The 1956 film “The Conqueror” made by eccentric filmmaker Howard Hughes would bring the story of Genghis Khan to the big screen starring none other than John Wayne.  The film would become infamous, with, of 220 crew members, 91 would develop cancer, and 46 would die from one form of cancer or another.  Snow Canyon in Utah where the film was shot was only a hundred miles from a government atomic testing site that detonated 11 nuclear bombs in the previous year.  Normally outdoors is safe from excessive radon exposure but two exceptions happen to be fallout zones and close proximity to uranium-mine shafts.  If that wasn’t bad enough the dirt from the set was shipped back to California and kept in an enclosed sound stage for reshoots.  Radioactive sand in a box as it were.

Much of our awareness of radon and its negative health effects are due to a dark period of American history and the occupational hazards of early uranium miners.  The federal government was the sole purchaser of uranium ore until 1971 for national security reasons.  Their neglectful operation of the mines to harvest it would result in the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, the 1990 act of congress,  acknowledging responsibility for their mistreatment of uranium miners.

Virginia uranium heat map

If you have ever purchased a home, you may have performed a radon test as part of the home inspection.  It’s a good investment since that is the air you will be breathing for the rest of your life.  Virginia has land that falls in all three risk zones that the EPA establishes.   In 1986 the Virginia Department of Health surveyed 800 homes and found that 12% of them had radon levels above 4 picocuries/L the cutoff for remediation.  The tidewater area of the state, east of Interstate 95 has the least risk since it is below the fall line with sandier soil.  West of the fall line we have rockier soil sitting at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains which have been crumbling for an eternity in the geologic sense.  The Coles Hill Uranium deposit in southwestern Virginia has been the point of contentious legal debate.  It is described as the largest known undeveloped uranium deposit in the United States and has an estimated mineral value of 427 million dollars.  Virginia currently has a ban on uranium mining despite multiple functioning nuclear reactors in the state and multiple legal attempts to repeal it.

Jacob Hyatt Pharm D.

Father of three, pharmacist, Realtor, Landlord, freelance health and medicine reporter

hyattjn@gmail.com www.Jeffersongroverva.com

Bitcoin GtjoZgxE7WpTkWRE6JiEiXfUpqbWKxH4g

Further References and reading

https://www.epa.gov/radon/citizens-guide-radon-guide-protecting-yourself-and-your-family-radon

https://www.wideopencountry.com/how-did-john-wayne-die/

https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/radiological-health/indoor-radon-program/history/

https://www.epa.gov/radon/health-risk-radon

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-54891-8

https://world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Judge-upholds-Virginias-uranium-mining-ban

Stanley, F.K.T., Irvine, J.L., Jacques, W.R. et al. Radon exposure is rising steadily within the modern North American residential environment, and is increasingly uniform across seasons. Sci Rep 9, 18472 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-54891-8

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31955264/

Ćujić M, Janković Mandić L, Petrović J, Dragović R, Đorđević M, Đokić M, Dragović S. Radon-222: environmental behavior and impact to (human and non-human) biota. Int J Biometeorol. 2021 Jan;65(1):69-83. doi: 10.1007/s00484-020-01860-w. Epub 2020 Jan 18. PMID: 31955264.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6042664/

Garcia-Rodriguez JA. Radon gas-the hidden killer: What is the role of family doctors?. Can Fam Physician. 2018;64(7):496-501.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2654404/

Samet JM. Radon and lung cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1989 May 10;81(10):745-57. doi: 10.1093/jnci/81.10.745. PMID: 2654404.

Gilliland FD, Hunt WC, Pardilla M, Key CR. Uranium mining and lung cancer among Navajo men in New Mexico and Arizona, 1969 to 1993. J Occup Environ Med. 2000 Mar;42(3):278-83. doi: 10.1097/00043764-200003000-00008. PMID: 10738707.

Samet JM, Kutvirt DM, Waxweiler RJ, Key CR. Uranium mining and lung cancer in Navajo men. N Engl J Med. 1984 Jun 7;310(23):1481-4. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198406073102301. PMID: 6717538.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222290/

Brugge D, Goble R. The history of uranium mining and the Navajo people. Am J Public Health. 2002 Sep;92(9):1410-9. doi: 10.2105/ajph.92.9.1410. PMID: 12197966; PMCID: PMC3222290.

Published in Healthcare

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  1. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    JacobHyatt: Radon gas combined with cigarette smoking is about as good a recipe for lung cancer as humanity has ever come across.  Ionizing radiation from the decaying radon particles damage our DNA and create genomic instability which leads to cancer. 

    Hmmmmmmm.

    • #1
  2. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    When we moved to Virginia (the Shenandoah Valley) and built our new home in 2008, we began to hear stuff about Radon, so we had the house tested after a couple of years. The reading was way above the standard, so we had a remediation company come in. All they had to do was install a fan in the vent that goes from the sump pump pit in the basement and exits through the roof. Multiple readings since then have been well below the remediation cutoff, so it seems to have worked.

    • #2
  3. DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) Coolidge
    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!)
    @DonG

    Liking those footnotes!  

    • #3
  4. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    I had thought that the great Radon gas scare was another of those highly-profitable stampedes to buy and test, buy and test.

    • #4
  5. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    BDB (View Comment):

    I had thought that the great Radon gas scare was another of those highly-profitable stampedes to buy and test, buy and test.

    You can buy test kits at hardware stores, etc. for under $20. Open it in the basement for a couple days and mail it in, they email the results. We do it every three years or so.

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Interesting paper.

    • #6
  7. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    And in Boulder, MT people pay to sit in an old radium mine and breathe it in! Supposed to be good for the rhuematism.

    • #7
  8. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    A lot of work went into this post, plus the topic is new to Ricochet and quite interesting. Thanks, JH. 

    • #8
  9. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    There can be problems of radon in well drinking water as well. I live in an area where that is a common problem. 

    • #9
  10. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Radon inspections in the Portland, Oregon area are not uncommon, as well as the rest of the State. Half finished basements are prone to Radon due to the volcanic history of Oregon.

    • #10
  11. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    philo (View Comment):

    JacobHyatt: Radon gas combined with cigarette smoking is about as good a recipe for lung cancer as humanity has ever come across. Ionizing radiation from the decaying radon particles damage our DNA and create genomic instability which leads to cancer.

    Hmmmmmmm.

    I’m not going to downplay the potential danger of radon gas and smoking, but if you want an even better recipe for lung cancer, look into the asbestos cigarette filters used by Kent back in the day.

    • #11
  12. Marjorie Reynolds Coolidge
    Marjorie Reynolds
    @MarjorieReynolds

    I don’t know much about it except that I had a radon gas barrier among many other things put in under my floors. Maybe it is more of a thing over here? 

    • #12
  13. Headedwest Coolidge
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    When I moved to State College PA our house had a slightly high radon number. I found that Penn State had people doing research on radon risk in Pennsylvania (there is, I was told, a real hot spot around Reading, PA).  So I talked to a guy who was doing a major study on radon. We had an interesting conversation; he agreed with you in that he said something like “if you’re spending every evening watching tv and smoking in your basement rec room with high radon levels, you are at very high risk.”

    But he went on to tell me he thought the real estate tests were set at very low levels and the resulting ubiquity of radon mitigation was not medically necessary for non-smokers. He said he would personally not do any mitigation in his own house with the numbers we had.

    Today I have a lot more cash on hand than I did then, and I might just put it in so that it would remove a a potential issue in the future sale of the house.  But the people who bought that house didn’t make it a condition of the sale, either. 

    • #13
  14. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    philo (View Comment):

    JacobHyatt: Radon gas combined with cigarette smoking is about as good a recipe for lung cancer as humanity has ever come across. Ionizing radiation from the decaying radon particles damage our DNA and create genomic instability which leads to cancer.

    Hmmmmmmm.

    Well, in an otherwise informative and somewhat interesting post, there are things about the second sentence in the clipped passage above that send spikes to my skepticism meter. But this appears to be a (now promoted?) non-conversation so I’m just going to let it go.

    Color me suspicious.

    • #14
  15. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Thank you for the information you provided, and it was good to find out about test kits for under 20 bucks.

    Many homes are polluted with all the crap inside the Lysols, Febreeze and Glade products that people spray around their residence. Off the top of my head, the Febreeze and Glade crap contains Formaldehyde and chloroform. Formaldehyde is a chemical that helps the ailment MS progress along nicely. (As does aspartame and if you really want it out of your life, check shampoo bottles for the expression “Quaterneum” as that is code for formaldehyde.)

    Lysol spray is not a carcinogen per se. But it stops the body from having the ability to flush out cancer cells as part of the body’s innate defenses. (Alkyl is the culprit in the formula that does that.)

    Cigarette smoking has gone away – at least in my county in California. About two years ago, when a cashier at the local grocery was training a new clerk, all of us inline spent the time patiently visiting with each other. Someone started saying “Remember how the big health problem used to be  cigarettes but at least everyone was skinny? Now the health problem is obesity – but at least we don’t get lung cancer.” Health solutions often seem to be  an “Out of the fire into the frying pan” type of situation.

    • #15
  16. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):
    Someone started saying “Remember how the big health problem used to be  cigarettes but at least everyone was skinny? Now the health problem is obesity – but at least we don’t get lung cancer.” Health solutions often seem to be  an “Out of the fire into the frying pan” type of situation.

    Used to be, in the military you could be incompetent or fat, but not gay.

    Now, you can be incompetent or gay, but not fat.

    • #16