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Radiation exposure: safe, eye on radon.

Radiation exposure: Safe, eye on radon

Current annual levels of exposure to radiation from all sources in the United States are, on average, not dangerously high, according to a review of available data released last week by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, a nonprofit research organization in Bethesda, Md.

The report recommends, however, that a national survey of radon levels in homes be conducted. Radon gas, generated by the natural radioactive decay of radium in the soil, is estimated by the report to account for about 55 percent of the total average yearly exposure to radiation. There is growing concern that large numbers of U.S. homes have high indoor radon levels (SN: 11/22/86, p.325). Uranium miners exposed to elevated radon levels have experienced increased rates of lung cancer, notes the report. Average radon levels can vary greatly from home to home and in different regions of the country, but widespread testing has not been conducted.

Other naturally occurring radiation sources contribute 27 percent of the average yearly exposure, according to the report. These include cosmic radiation from the sun and outer space, radioactive rocks and faint traces of radioactive materials found in living creatures, including humans.

The remaining portion of the yearly radiation exposure, 18 percent of the total according to the report, comes from human-made sources. Medical uses of radiation, such as X-ray procedures and nuclear imaging, account for the bulk of these exposures. Consumer products, including cigarettes, domestic water supplies, building materials, mining and agricultural products and natural gas in heaters and cooking ranges, make up 3 percent of the total annually.

Averaged over the U.S. population, radiation levels on the job and from other environmental sources, including nuclear power plants and fallout from nuclear weapons tests, amount to less than 1 percent of the total yearly exposure.
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Author:Bruce, Bower
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 28, 1987
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