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Elevated radon risk for passive smokers.

Cigarette smoking and radon's radioactive decay products pose independent risks of lung cancer-and together, they form a potent synergistic duo. Three years ago, an assistant U.S. surgeon general noted that smoking raises a person's radonrelated cancer risk to a level 15 times higher than that of nonsmokers (SN: 9/24/88, p.206). Now, a preliminary study suggests that even nonsmokers face intensified radon risks if they live or work with smokers.

In a series of two- and three-day tests, researchers lit one or more cigarettes in varying environments: a test chamber (small room), the basements of two houses, and the groundlevel living room of a house without a basement. Though radon values varied little, room levels of radon's radioactive decay products, or "daughters," increased dramatically, report health physicists Raymond H. Johnson Jr. of Key Technology, Inc., in Jonestown, Pa., and Eric Geiger of Radon QC in Palmer, Pa.

For instance, within five hours of lighting a single cigarette in one nonsmoking family' basement, the researchers found that the room's radon-daughter levels jumped about 25 percent-an increase that lasted roughly nine hours before tailing off. A second cigarette, lit 24 hours after the first, spiked daughter levels 40 percent. In another test, Johnson and Geiger lit 20 cigarettes gradually over each of two 24-hour periods to simulate the presence of a pack-a-day smoker. Radon-daughter levels more than doubled within three hours, and tripled within 28 hours, of the first cigarette's lighting.

Burning cigarettes generate fine particles that can remain suspended in the air for a day or so (SN: 7/27/91, p.60). While short-lived radon poses little direct hazard to health, several of its longer-lived daughter readily adhere to surfaces, including walls, furniture and airborne particles. By seeding the air with copious quantities of respirable aerosols, says Johnson, smokers apparently enable radon daughters to prolong their stay in the air, where they remain available for inhalation.
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Title Annotation:lung cancer
Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 3, 1991
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