What are the Health Risks of Radon Exposure?
Even before scientists were able to discover and study the radiation that results from the breakdown of uranium, radon gas was causing health problems in those with long-term exposure. It was first referred to as wasting disease and was occurring primarily in miners who spent nearly all of their time underground. They showed symptoms such as difficulty breathing, unwavering coughs as well as coughing up blood.
By the late 1800’s, scientists were able to identify this wasting disease as lung cancer. However, it wasn’t until the mid-1900’s, after many studies by physicists Ernest Rutherford and Ernst Dorn, that they were able to connect the harmful effects of radioactive radon to lung cancer sufferers.
Myth: You will know when you have been exposed to radon gas. There will be symptoms and signs that tell you there’s a problem in your home and give you clues that something needs to be done.
Fact: The above myth is dangerously untrue. One of the unfortunate characteristics of radon gas is that it is virtually undetectable. It has no smell, color, or taste. And by the time individuals discover that it is present in their home it may already be too late.
After inhaling radon gas, it can actually build up in the body over time which leads to cell mutations. This build-up happens gradually and people can be exposed to high levels of the gas for several years without even knowing it. By the time they discover any symptoms such as reoccurring respiratory infections, breathing difficulties or incessant coughing, lung cancer may have already taken hold.
Myth: It is uncertain whether the connection between radon and lung cancer is scientifically valid.
Fact: Although there are, and always will be, scientists that disagree about the number of lung cancer sufferers and deaths due to radon, there is no question that exposure to radon gas is linked to lung cancer. Every major health organization in the nation including the American Lung Association, American Medical Association, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and even the Surgeon General can agree that radon is linked to thousands of deaths every year due to lung cancer.
Because of the extensive data that has been collected through animal studies, human data, and a comprehensive understanding of how radon affects those exposed, it has been rated as a Class A carcinogen. It is the number one leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer in those who do smoke.
Fact: According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Surgeon General, there are approximately 20,000 lung cancer deaths caused by radon each year. Deaths that could have been prevented if people had the knowledge and took the necessary steps to avoid being exposed. Smokers are among those at the highest risk along with children who are believed to be more sensitive to radon. This could be partly due to the fact that their cells divide more rapidly so affected, cancerous cells spread faster or a higher respiration rate than adults.
If you have further questions or concerns about these radon gas facts, you can easily locate a home inspector or radon specialist that is willing and able to provide more valuable information. For readers in the central Iowa area, Central Iowa Radon is your testing and mitigation experts. They can be found at their website www.centraliaradon.com or by calling them at 515-661-4304.