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New survey prompts radon health alert.

New survey prompts radon health alert

Responding to results of a new Environmental Protection Agency survey indicating the indoor radon problem is more serious and widespread than previously suspected (SN: 9/17/88, p.180), the Public Health Service announced on Sept. 12 a "national radon health advisory."

According to Assistant Surgeon General Vernon J. Houk, an estimated 5,000 U.S. lung cancers among nonsmokers each year are believed due entirely to indoor radon exposure. Among smokers, where radon exposure can elevate lung cancer risk 15-fold over normal, the problem is even more serious--accounting for roughly 15,000 additional deaths annually. These statistics indicate that indoor radon's human roll "probably exceeds by 10 times the problem of outdoor air pollution," Houk says. And like deaths from smoking, radon's toll is "largely preventable," he adds.

To identify persons at risk, the new health advisory recommends homes be tested for radon, and radon-reduction measures be implemented when elevated levels are found. In the meantime, Houk advises homeowners with high radon levels to "prohibit smoking in your house." Radon's toxic decay products -- known as "daughters" -- attach to respirable particles, such as those in cigarette smoke. Once inhaled, radioactive daughters piggybacking on these particles are deposited in the lung. So by polluting indoor air, he notes, smokers can elevate the radon risk of nonsmokers. At a press conference last week, Houk called upon physicians and other health professionals to get this message out and "become the leaders in radon-exposure reduction."
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Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 24, 1988
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