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  1. Here’s what the EPA posts… “Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, according to EPA estimates. Overall, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked.” IMHO, the term “hypothetical” should be inserted in each sentence; e.g. “radon is the second leading hypothetical cause of lung cancer…”

  2. It’s worth noting that the EPA began its campaign to scare people about the “danger” of radon in 1993, when Carol Browner was head of the EPA. Though she changed her position on nuclear energy about a dozen, the effect of her 23 year-old decision to allow her agency to spread fear of low levels of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope still lingers.

    Here is a quote from an April 7, 1993 article in the New York Times titled U.S. Urges Radon Curbs in New Houses:

    The E.P.A. also published a new information pamphlet warning people of radon’s potential to cause lung cancer and urging buyers to require sellers to test houses for radon, just as they are for termite damage, before a sale can be completed.

    The agency said today that it regarded radon as being among the most serious environmental threats to public health, accounting for 7,000 to 30,000 cases of lung cancer each year in the United States. But that view has been disputed by a growing number of scientists, some of whom said today that the money the agency expected the public to pay for reducing radon in houses was out of proportion to the risk posed by the gas.

    Testing for radon in a house costs $15 to $50, and taking steps to remove radon in existing homes by venting the gas outside the houses can cost up to $3,000, building contractors said today. Installing measures to prevent radon in new homes can cost $500 to $1,000, builders said.

    Taken together, the actions represent a new and politically risky step by the E.P.A. to expand its authority to protect people from a potential environmental hazard in their homes.

    An agency spokesman said Carol M. Browner, the E.P.A. Administrator, was briefed about the agency’s action today and raised no objections. Ms. Browner was unavailable for comment today because of an illness.

    But scientists inside and outside the Government question the risk from radon in houses. Dr. Jan A. Stolwijk, a professor of epidemiology and public health at Yale University, said that the low levels of radon that people are normally exposed to in their homes do not pose an exceptional risk of lung cancer, particularly for people who do not smoke. And for those who smoke, he said, exposure to low levels of radon is a minor factor in their already high chances of developing lung cancer resulting from smoking.

    “If I’m worrying about lung cancer, I have a much better way of clearly lowering my risk than spending a lot of money preventing radon from entering homes,” said Dr. Stolwijk in an interview today. “And that is to stop smoking. If the E.P.A. wants to wipe out lung cancer, they would be much more effective if they banned cigarettes.”

    Since the primary effect of scaring people about radon is to make them afraid of any radioactive material, I think that qualifies as an antinuclear action.

  3. Good article!

    I hope this doesn’t sound off-topic but it follows the same theme. Up till vaccinations were first developed, many Old World doctors wondered why milkmaids and others who worked very closely with cows and cattle seldom caught the scourge of smallpox till it was discovered that it was their chance exposure with cowpox at an early age that rendered most immune to smallpox. It almost sounds the incidental household radon “vaccination” to low radiation sources here.

    James Greenidge
    Queens New York

  4. And, there are plenty of people – Austrians whose government is crusading antinuclear, no less – who have great confidence in the healing properties of – wait for it – natural radon. From the Bad Gastein website:

    The thermal water – our central spa therapy – is weakly mineralised and enriched with natural radon. Tests have show that precipitation water at an altitude of about 1,800 metres seeps to a depth of 2,000 metres, heats up at that depth and again rises to the surface at an altitude of about 1,000 metres – from 16 different springs and at a volume of five million litres per day.

    What is radon and how does this radioactive substance work?
    Mild, natural radioactivity is thoroughly positive for the body when taken as a part of a cure. The radon inert gas escapes from the thermal water and enters the body through the respiratory tract and the skin. It unfolds its healing effect there before it completely disintegrates after about three hours. The defence mechanism in the organism is stimulated and the natural warmth fosters circulation.
    Healing success is enhanced by the altitude of the Gastein spa region. Our organism adapts to the height, more red blood corpuscles are produced and the capacity of providing the tissue with oxygen in increased.

    Radon content (water from the Elisabeth Spring in Bad Gastein) is quoted as 52nCi/L.

    The whole area is a big tourist draw and has a long history of illustrious personages who have taken the waters.

      1. “52nCi/L = 52,000 pCi/L”

        I’ve always considered the pCi a very unnatural radioactivity unit and it’s not an SI unit, the Becquerel (1 disintegration/sec) is the SI unit. Since 1 Bq = 27 pCi, in more “natural” units we have:

        52,000 pCi/L = 1.9 kBq/L

        For reference, the human body is about 115 Bq/L (116 Bq/kg) and the vast majority of that is from K40 and C14.

        So anytime you see something expressed in pCi, just divide by 27 to get Bq.

        And then realize the EPA wants our houses and schools to be less than 4pCi/L.
        Expressed in terms of Bq, that’s manifestly absurd i.e. it’s about 775 times LESS than
        the radioactivity of our bodies!

        See http://www.nucleonica.net/Applet/NaturalRA/Button5/page5.html

  5. The EPA publishes a map showing the expected level of radon in homes in each county. (http://www.epa.gov/radon/find-information-about-local-radon-zones-and-radon-programs#radonmap). Each county is assigned a zone, with Zone 1 having the most radon and Zone 3 the least.

    Last year I wrote to EPA to get the actual county-level data for each county in tabular form. Conveniently it was broken down the same way the census breaks down counties (there were only a few differences, as some cities in VA are counted as “counties” and had changed status in the intervening years; but those were easy corrections to make.) Then I weighted each county by its population and derived a population-weighted radon zone number for each state. This was a fractional number between 1 and 3.

    US lung cancer data by state is available from the CDC. https://nccd.cdc.gov/uscs/cancersbystateandregion.aspx

    US smoking rates by state is available by survey.
    https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/research/factsheets/pdf/0176.pdf

    The mean elevation of each state is available from the USGS via Wikipedia:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_elevation

    The results:

    The correlation of smoking with lung cancer is clear and unmistakable. The correlation coefficient between smoking rates and lung cancer rates is +.75.

    The correlation of elevation with lung cancer is clear and unmistakable. The correlation coefficient between elevation and lung cancer rates is -.72 (meaning higher elevation correlates with less lung cancer).

    The correlation of radon levels with lung cancer is unclear, insignificant, and if anything, shows hormesis. The correlation coefficient between radon zone and lung cancer is +.13, and since a low-numbered zone has more radon, the positive correlation indicates that the higher-numbered zones (less radon) had more lung cancer.

    The EPA’s statement that radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer is flat-out false.

  6. I have mixed feelings about the radon issue. The existence of a threshold (or perhaps even hormesis), as opposed to LNT, is almost certainly the truth. However, the fact is that mankind’s collective exposure (in man-Rem) from radon is thousands, perhaps even millions of times larger than its overall exposure from the nuclear industry. That would remain true even if they didn’t evacuate the lands around Fukushima, or place any controls on locally harvested food. Thus, if one does subscribe to LNT (as govt. currently does) that fact is one hell of an elephant in the room.

    I hope the effort to repudiate LNT (currently underway with NRC) succeeds, but in the likely event that it doesn’t, I’ve always advocated pointing out the selective application of LNT (to nuclear industry exposures only), as a far more unassailable argument. Whereas there is some scientific disagreement about LNT, the is absolutely no disagreement that the effects of exposure from natural and manmade sources is the same. Given this, nobody could defend doing little to nothing to reduce natural exposure sources like radon, while requiring vast expenses to reduce much smaller nuclear industry-related collective exposures (e.g., preventing meltdowns or cleaning up or evacuating after a meltdown).

    Thus, I would almost be asking why we do not do MORE to reduce radon exposure, given the fact that the collective exposure is so large, and that we do so much more to reduce much smaller nuclear industry related sources. I would demand that all sources of exposure (man-Rem) be treated equally, and the degree of effort and expense to reduce each man-Rem be roughly equal. Of course, my real point would be that the extreme measures taken to reduce nuclear industry exposures is clearly indefensible and inconsistent. My view is that this is the strongest argument we’ve got. Pointing out clear inconsistencies, based on agreed-upon science (that dose is dose).

    One may think that challenging all policies or mindsets that assume that low-level radiation exposure is dangerous will help the industry, in that it will reduce the (psychological) association of low-level radiation with danger. The psychology on that score is rather interesting (and depressing). Thus, it’s not clear that the desired result will be achieved.

    I’ve read about recent polls on the mindset of younger people with respect to nuclear and radiation, etc. The polls showed that most people did understand that the world is radiation filled and that they get significant exposure from natural sources (so far so good). But the article went on to say that (according to the polls) most people thought that man-made radiation was very harmful, and that exposures from natural sources were not harmful, at least not to anywhere near the same extent. It went on to say that people generally accept medical exposures (even very large ones), because they trust their doctors.

    Unbelievably frustrating! Maddening!!

    People’s (and govt’s) insisting on believing that low-level exposures are harmful (i.e., belief in LNT) bothers me, but belief in a difference between nuclear-industry related exposures and other (e.g., natural) sources of exposure bothers me a hell of a lot more. Not only is the science more settled, but I believe that this distinction (between man made and “natural”) exposures is an even bigger threat to the industry than belief in LNT. One reason is that, as I point out above, if one truly accepts that exposures are the same, whether man made or natural, the selective application of LNT can easily be attacked. Far more easily than LNT itself. Getting rid of such selective application should be sufficient, in my view, because (current) excessive efforts to reduce nuclear industry exposures only would not be defensible, and would go away.

    One is tempted to ask where the public would get such an absurd notion (i.e., that man made exposure is extremely harmful while natural exposures are not). The answer is that they got it from US, i.e., the nuclear industry and govt. When you promulgate extremely low limits on nuclear industry related radiation doses only, and allow (and do nothing to reduce) much larger exposures from natural sources, people naturally assume that you had a reason to do so, and that therefore nuclear industry related exposures, specifically, are extremely harmful. If you go to extreme lengths and expense to prevent meltdowns, and characterize them as ultimate disasters that must never happen, people assume that you have a reason to do so, and that those releases really are extremely significant and harmful. People look at what we (or the govt.) do; and much less on what we say.

    Anyway, so when I hear that we should do nothing to reduce a large source of natural radiation exposure (man-Rems), but don’t hear that we should also to little to nothing to prevent or reduce exposures from meltdowns, my feelings are mixed. It just seems that this will continue to abet the notion that natural and man made exposures are completely different.

    1. @Jim Hopf

      The biggest problem I have with your point here is that there are dedicated LNT proponents who are trying to use it to shape practices in the medical field. Under such campaigns as “Image Gently” they are scaring people away from some very effective treatments and important diagnostic tools.

      There is some indication that the monetary motive is driving this FUD campaign, just like it has always been a prime driver of the ALARA campaign in the nuclear industry. For example, simple, highly refined CT scanning equipment is far cheaper and easier to use than far more capital intensive MRI equipment. It’s lucrative for someone if patients to press their doctors to replace potentially better, cheaper images with potentially less useful and far more expensive MRI.

      1. I have often wondered how the image resolution of the MRI compares compares with the CT scan. I understand that the strength of the magnet affects the MRI resolution. Also there are variations of the MRI such as the FMRI which may have a similar purpose as the PET scan. Perhaps somebody with a background in radiology can shed some light on the issue.

    2. @Jim

      Great analysis of the whole public understanding of radiation. I agree that the notion that man-made radiation is more harmful than natural radiation is a more fundamental misconception that any acceptance on the LNT hypothesis.

      I would like to add another fundamental misconception that I see quite often when talking to people about radiation i.e. that its affects are cumulative. There is somehow the notion that radiation leaves something behind embedded in our bodies that we can never get rid of. Or that its affects are irreversible. Of course, studies that refute the LNT hypothesis clearly refute this notion as well, but I don’t think the general public realizes this when it is the LNT hypothesis that is the focus of consideration.

      I think one way the attack these misconceptions is to emphasize that Earth’s natural radiation environment is in a “Goldilocks” zone, not too little and not too much. Then go on to introduce the concept of hormesis vis-a-vis, say, gravity, and then show that natural radiation is in a broad hormetic zone and we should do everything to keep it there.

      Once these concepts are understood, LNT in the public’s mind is dead in the water.

      1. @William Vaughn

        Once these concepts are understood, LNT in the public’s mind is dead in the water.

        As important as that might be, the real cost savings will come when LNT is no longer the basis for laws and regulations. If the public accepts radiation but the regulators don’t it won’t make much difference in the way we design and operate all kinds of equipment that involve radiation.

  7. The EPA publishes a map showing the expected level of radon in homes in each county. (http://www.epa.gov/radon/find-information-about-local-radon-zones-and-radon-programs#radonmap). Each county is assigned a zone, with Zone 1 having the most radon and Zone 3 the least.

    Last year I wrote to EPA to get the actual county-level data for each county in tabular form. Conveniently it was broken down the same way the census breaks down counties (there were only a few differences, as some cities in VA are counted as “counties” and had changed status in the intervening years; but those were easy corrections to make.) Then I weighted each county by its population and derived a population-weighted radon zone number for each state. This was a fractional number between 1 and 3.

    US lung cancer data by state is available from the CDC. https://nccd.cdc.gov/uscs/cancersbystateandregion.aspx

    US smoking rates by state is available by survey.
    https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/research/factsheets/pdf/0176.pdf

    The mean elevation of each state is available from the USGS via Wikipedia:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_elevation

    The results:

    The correlation of smoking with lung cancer is clear and unmistakable. The correlation coefficient between smoking rates and lung cancer rates is +.75.

    The correlation of elevation with lung cancer is clear and unmistakable. The correlation coefficient between elevation and lung cancer rates is -.72 (meaning higher elevation correlates with less lung cancer).

    The correlation of radon levels with lung cancer is unclear, insignificant, and if anything, shows hormesis. The correlation coefficient between radon zone and lung cancer is +.13, and since a low-numbered zone has more radon, the positive correlation indicates that the higher-numbered zones (less radon) had more lung cancer.

    The EPA’s statement that radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer is flat-out false.

    1. Could you estimate whether the correlation with altitude approximates to the higher cosmic radiation you’d expect, or is it another variable altogether? I’ve heard that Colorado gets higher background radiation both from altitude, and from more uranium in the soil. It might be tricky to get a good database of places that were high altitude but not rocky.

      1. That’s a very interesting question, but there is no obvious way to disentangle the variables, as far as I know.

      2. Okay, I am now in a position to answer that question with some confidence. Cosmic radiation increases with both altitude and with latitude. Therefore if the elevation effect were due to cosmic rays, we should also see a dependence of cancer rates with latitude. Simultaneous regression shows absolutely no such relationship (p>.9), therefore cosmic radiation can be ruled out as a cause. It’s gotta be the oxygen.

        (I have also now computed population-weighted elevations for each state and am using them from now on. It doesn’t change things much.)

  8. I am instantly skeptical when I see any writer invoke the pattern:
    “[factor X] is a leading cause of cancer”

    Clearly, cancer is real. If you know or have read in any depth on cancer (e.g. I recommend ‘Cancer Chronicles’ by George Johnson), you see that any given cancer case is the single visible result of dozens of inputs of a patient’s life up to that point – environmental, hereditary, behavioral, etc…leading to 10’s of specific cellular malfunctions.

    So although it’s tempting to draw simple correlations, just as it’s tempting to tie ‘clusters’ of cancer back to a single obvious cause, it’s usually a lot more complicated than people are equipped to understand.

    @swainscheps

  9. Pickering’s claim that lung cancer correlates with altitude is a reminder that correlation is not necessarily causation. Conversely, lack of correlation, using oddly selected, averaged data sources, does not rule out causation.

    Scratch the surface of cancer data and you see more factors than simple analogies can explain. Differences in rates with age, gender, and race (oh my) make this obvious. There’s a big difference between a few hours or days vacation exposure at a spa, likely open to ventilation versus years of chronic exposure inside a mostly closed home.

    Adams and focus on EPA does the history disservice. Tobacco companies knew of connections between radiation and lung cancer long ago, and a nuclear plant in 1984 was involved in creating the more recent concerns with radon. Health effects from Radon and daughter products, notably Polonium-210, have been causes of health problems for miners even longer, and the presence in tobacco is not just an interesting coincidence.

    References:

    http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/cigarette-smoke-contains-radioactive-211108

    “The gathered data from the documents on the relevant radiobiological parameters of the alpha particles — such as dose, distribution and retention time — permitted us to duplicate the industry’s secretly estimated radiation absorbed dose by regular smokers over a 20- or 25-year period, which equaled 40 to 50 rads,” he said.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1987/07/26/business/the-radon-raiders-turning-perils-into-profits.html?pagewanted=all

    SHORTLY after Stanley J. Watras walked into work at the Limerick, Pa., nuclear power plant in late 1984 and triggered a radiation detector, he discovered that he had set off much more than a monitoring device.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radon#History_and_etymology

    “In 1530, Paracelsus described a wasting disease of miners, the mala metallorum, and Georg Agricola recommended ventilation in mines to avoid this mountain sickness (Bergsucht). In 1879, this condition was identified as lung cancer by Herting and Hesse in their investigation of miners from Schneeberg, Germany. The first major studies with radon and health occurred in the context of uranium mining in the Joachimsthal region of Bohemia.[52] In the US, studies and mitigation only followed decades of health effects on uranium miners of the Southwestern United States employed during the early Cold War; standards were not implemented until 1971.”

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2270238/

    “Between 91 and 14%2 of deaths from lung cancer in smokers are presently attributed to the effects of low levels of the radioactive gas radon in houses. The highly carcinogenic alpha-particles (radiation) from radon have a major synergistic effect with the chemical carcinogens in cigarette smoke, increasing the lifetime risk of lung cancer by a factor of 8.32 to 251 compared with never-smokers. Radon and its radioactive daughter products, one of which is polonium-210 (Po-210), arise from the radioactive decay of uranium, which is ubiquitous in the soil. Low levels of Po-210, which emits the same kind of alpha-radiation as radon, contaminate tobacco.3 Po-210 is relatively long-lived fallout from the decay of radon in the atmosphere close to tobacco plants. This in turn comes from the decay of uranium-contaminated calcium phosphate fertilizer used on tobacco fields. ”

    http://www.nuclearconnect.org/know-nuclear/talking-nuclear/radon

    “In 1984, the scientific world woke up to the existence of radon in homes. A construction engineer triggered radiation alarms while entering the Limerick nuclear power plant near Philadelphia. His home in Boyertown was tested and the radon concentration was a shocking 2,700 pCi/L.”

    1. @Mala Metallorum

      Welcome to the conversation at Atomic Insights. Though your chosen pseudonym gives me a clue that you are here for a single reason and may quickly disappear, I hope you are open to new information.

      There is an enormous difference between the radiation doses deposited in the lungs of underground miners working in poorly ventilated uranium mines and those of homeowners in the worst case. Identifying radon in high dose and high dose rate situations as a potential carcinogen does nothing to prove that the material in far lower quantities is also a carcinogen.

      It is also interesting that you bring up tobacco company research; that highly profitable industry spent a lot of time and money looking for possible cancer contributors in addition to their deadly product. Anytime they found anything with any potential for confusing the public and the regulators, they promoted it heavily as part of their effort to case doubt on tobacco as a leading cause of lung cancer. Any doubt or uncertainty they could establish was pure gold in terms of deflecting liability and very large damage awards in law suites.

      Unlike the “shocking” radon concentration of 2,700 pCi/L, some poorly ventilated underground mines have been measured with radon concentrations into the millions of up to 10,000 pCi/L. For convenience, those concentrations are often given in microcuries/L.
      (Source: Mining and selling radium and uranium P.245)

      Note: Correction made after performing additional research.

      One of the best proofs of the lack of harm from radon at the concentrations found inside homes is the 70-year long studies conducted of people who had either accidentally or for medical reasons ingested large body burdens of radium, which decays by producing radon.

      As documented in a lengthy report titled Radium in Humans, there were no excess cancers found in any person whose computed lifetime dose from their ingested radium was less than 1000 Rad.

      PS – Just in case there are some who think they should challenge that statement by claiming that the study subjects are not representative of the general population, the subjects included people of nearly all ages beyond toddlers and a majority of the subjects were women.

      1. According to wikipedia, the “enormous” difference between Watras’ basement and uranium mines was only about a factor of 10 (2.7 versus 27 nCi/L). As no exposure or concentration numbers are given in this opinion piece, we are left guessing what limit you, Bill Sacks, or the choir would recommend for household radon concentrations, or for mining? What is the best exposure rate to obtain “radon’s protective effect at low levels of exposure,” and does it vary with altitude, or for rad workers with occupational doses, or for medical patients with treatment doses?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radon#Concentration_scale

        Do you even bother reading references? Are you re-writing history as you go? You say, “Anytime they found anything with any potential for confusing the public and the regulators, they promoted it heavily …”

        but UCLA says,

        “Tobacco companies knew that cigarette smoke contained radioactive alpha particles for more than four decades and developed “deep and intimate” knowledge of these particles’ cancer-causing potential, but they deliberately kept their findings from the public, according to a new study by UCLA researchers.” (2011)

        Who is more believable?

        How many people in the “Radium in Humans review of US studies” study actually received doses below 1,000 Rad? Aside: Have you switched back to US units?

        So, you want me to believe a conclusion based primarily on ingestion or injection of purified and concentrated radium applies to inhalation of diffuse radon in a basement? Second, you want me to ignore the long list of problems with unidentified exposed people, unmeasured but identified workers, and general lack of data. Table 1 and 2 show more people were unmeasured, 2,225, than were measured, 1,908, and only 10’s of people were exposed to low doses. Let’s not even get into the differences between 226Ra and 228Ra decay chains, and which is more relevant to the radon usually found in basements.

        Even wikipedia recognizes the controversy and problems with Cohen’s statistics, and more objective groups have apparently rejected it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radon#Domestic-level_exposure

        Finally, the report says, “The average radon level in the plants was 51 × 10 – 8 Ci per
        10 m 3 of air (approximately 10 m 3 of air is inhaled in a working day) or
        51 pCi of radon per liter;” This was about 1/53 of in Watras’ basement? The dial workers received lower inhalation exposures, on average, than residents of Pennsylvania, and only about 13 times the 4 pCi/L EPA action level? I don’t know if it proves anything, but especially not whether there was a problem in Watras’ basement.

        1. @Mala Metallorum

          I admit that I do not read all references provided by others, especially when they are wikipedia articles.

          However, I did conduct some additional research and found that radon concentrations in unventilated mines in the western US were measured as high as 10,000 pCi/L. I was wrong when I said “millions of pCi/L”.

          I don’t think your quote of UCLA’s finding and mine actually conflict. I might not have made it clear I was claiming that the tobacco companies frequently promoted potential causes of cancer that were not related to cigarette smoking. Obscuring knowledge of alpha emitters in cigarette smoke would be consistent with their normal behavior.

          1. Hi Rod and Mala

            It’s quite possible that, even though the radon concentration wasn’t millions of times higher, the risk of cancer to underground miners was. A simple radon concentration doesn’t tell you much about the risk as radon decay products can contribute far more dose to the lungs than radon itself. To assess radon decay products (RDP) accurately you need to know the potential alpha energy concentration, particle sizes, attached vs unattached fractions, etc. It gets very complicated very quickly, but the key point here is that radon in mines is more dangerous than radon in homes, even if the radon concentration is the same. When all is said and done I wouldn’t be surprised if a bad mine really was millions of times more dangerous than a bad house.

            Moving on from here there are some very interesting anomalies to look into when you try to combine epidemiological studies of radon and RDP exposure with an ICRP style dosimetric model, but those are starting to get a bit off topic so I’ll leave that for another day.

        2. @Mala

          I know this a little late, but I was rereading your comment and found a conversion error( not sure what report you are referring to):

          Finally, the report says, “The average radon level in the plants was 51 × 10 – 8 Ci per 10 m 3 of air (approximately 10 m 3 of air is inhaled in a working day) or
          51 pCi of radon per liter;”

          But 51 x 10^-8 Ci / 10 m^3 = 51 pCi / m^3
          Since 1 m^3 = 1000 L this is 0.051 pCi/L, not 51 pCi/L.

          Remember that the human body has a typical activity level of about 3100 pCi/L.

          1. William,

            The quote was from Rod’s reference, “a lengthy report titled Radium in Humans,” so I’m inclined to let him defend the error or accuracy in that conversion. However, your mistake was equating 10^-9 with pico, when 10^-9 is nano, and 10^-12 is pico. So, I believe the quote was correct, and you are in error.

            As you quoted before, “52nCi/L = 52,000 pCi/L”. While I question the accuracy of that “data” as well, I also note the radon therapy bath specifies “Therapy duration: 25 minutes.” Less than a half hour, from time to time, may add up to significantly less total dose compared with living in homes many hours of every day.

            Regarding the “typical activity level” of bodies, All activities are not created equal… Your Carbon 14 and Potassium 40 are mainly beta and gamma/x-ray emitters, which decay once to stable isotopes. Where they are distributed also matters. Radon and daughter isotopes, in the lungs, decay through a series of alpha (and beta) emitters. Apparently these alphas wreak havoc on nearby lung tissue.

    2. @ Mala Metallorum

      Simultaneous regression of lung cancer rates by state on three variables (smoking rates by state from CDC, average elevation by state from USGS, and population-weighted radon levels from LBL) shows that two of those variables are highly statistically significant: smoking (p =1.44e-12) and elevation (p =8.87e-9) while radon is nowhere near significant (p = .568). Removing radon from the model improves the p-values for each of the other variables, improves the standard error of the regression, improves Akaike Information Crterion, improves the Hannan-Quinn statistic, improves the Schwarz criterion, and improves the adjusted r-squared value. In other words, the inclusion of radon in the model shows every sign of overfitting to a non-significant variable. I’m currently working on expanding this analysis to the county level (essentially reproducing Cohen — or not) and I’ll keep AI updated as things develop.

      It is undoubtedly true that high levels of radon, such as those encountered in unventilated mines during previous decades, is correlated with lung cancer. But it is unproven and highly doubtful that radon at the low levels experienced in homes has anything at all to do with lung cancer.

  10. The symbolism of the timing of this post just before World Cancer Day, February 4, is priceless.

    I would suggest someone should study a large number of specific individuals and measure radon in specific homes, some having lung cancer and some not, but this has already been done. You could always do more, and improve the statistics; however, “ecological” studies of averages trended against averages looks inadequate in comparison.

    It’s as if you’all (via Cohen) stumbled on a set of data in 1995, and it supports your preferred political position, so you refuse to see anything else since then.

    https://atomicinsights.com/high-reasonably-safe-ahars-sensible-radiation-standards/#comment-72876

    The lack of responses to being shown opposing studies, as above, is telling.

    Puskin’s response, page 3 here, sums it up well, and not just with the song:

    http://www.doseinfo-radar.com/EPA_article.pdf

    “Stabin and Siegel’s rejection of LNT is indefensible when it comes to radon. Citing a 1995 paper by Bernard Cohen, they claim that LNT “may grossly overestimate cancer risks associated with radon [sic] inhalation.” They appear to be unaware of the pooled analyses of residential case-control studies (Darby et al. 2005; WHO 2009), which directly show that LNT provides a reasonable estimate of risk at radon levels only slightly above the EPA action level. It should also be pointed out that EPA’s action level was not chosen on a health-risk basis, but it was driven by the technical feasibility of achieving reliable and verifiable reductions by homeowners.”

    Those Linear No-Threshold Blues
    Marvin Rosenstein
    Reprinted from “A Musing Columntune”
    February 1995
    Health Physics Newsletter

    Since the human data left us
    Without any low-dose facts
    We’re lost on how to deal with
    The less than 10-rad whacks.

    We’ve got those linear . . . those linear
    no-threshold blues.

    The theories all have key flaws
    The experiments often vary
    The explanations are not solid
    And the science is quite hairy.

    We’ve got those low-down linear . . . those
    low-down linear no-threshold blues.

    Some people cry hormesis
    Some people yell repair
    Most people moan we don’t know
    So let’s pretend it’s there.

    We’ve got those very-low-down linear . . .
    those very-low-down linear no-threshold
    blues.

    Those low-down blues.

    Figure 4 in Radon: A likely carcinogen at all exposures, Darby, Hill and Doll, 2001, also sums up data from miner and case-controlled residential studies, with comparison to Cohen’s predictions. Error bars are large, and do overlap the “no damage” or “benefit” possibility; however, Cohen’s prediction, and the “benefit” thesis of this post, is clearly far off from reality.

    http://annonc.oxfordjournals.org/content/12/10/1341.full.pdf

    1. Since I promised a follow-up, here it is. I found county-level data for elevation, radon levels, population, and lung cancer as described above. Smoking data from CDC is at the state level so I propagated it downward to the county level for analysis. For the best combination of smoking variable plus elevation and radon, OLS (ordinary least squares) showed very high significance for smoking and elevation, and high significance (P=4e-5) for radon — BUT the radon coefficient was negative (implying hormesis). Using WLS (weighted least squares, with square-root of county population as the weight), radon was no longer statistically significant (p=.13), but still negative.

      Comparing radon levels to the residuals of a two-variable (smoking, elevation) model showed similar results: high significance using OLS, no significance using WLS, and negative coefficients in both cases.

      I note that not a single study cited by Mala Metallorum considered elevation as a possible cause. Given the very high statistical significance found here, such omission must be considered as serious a flaw as failure to consider smoking as a possible confounding factor. In any event, the oft-repeated statement (seen first in Darby, Hill & Doll, cited above) that radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, is almost certainly false: the second-leading cause of lung cancer is living at low altitude.

      KP

      1. Keith,

        Regarding “…not a single study cited by Mala Metallorum considered elevation as a possible cause.”

        There are many more studies available, as casual online searches show. I assume most of the case-studies were done in locations where elevation was not a factor, but I haven’t checked. The point is there is a lot of uncertainty, serious scientists continue to study it, and promoting “benefits” of higher radon in homes, without mentioning a single number, when this is far from proven, is irresponsible.

        The “altitude connection” is becoming more widely known, even in popular press:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/26/science/unraveling-the-ties-of-altitude-oxygen-and-lung-cancer.html?_r=0

        I would take issue with the conclusion: “And not all of them can be avoided. You can quit smoking and mitigate the radon in your basement. But you can’t mitigate oxygen.”

        It seems short-sided to say you can’t mitigate oxygen; in somewhat sealed structures, it should be feasible to control pressure, and oxygen levels. The “radon sucking” systems could be part of that.

        We already have phones with barometric pressure sensors and location tracking. Add radiation dosimetry and some chemical sensors, link the data with medical histories, and eventually, as the lung cancer cases accumulate, you should have enough detailed, individual data draw useful conclusions.

        1. Mala,

          Thanks for citing that interesting NYT article and the associated study. If citing benefits of radon without “sufficient” scientific grounding is irresponsible, then so is citing the alleged dangers of radon without sufficient scientific grounding. One important point of the PeerJ study (that prompted the NYT article) is that “we demonstrated that previously reported inverse lung cancer associations with radon and UVB became insignificant after accounting for elevation.” Which is exactly what I found too: no significant effects of radon, after accounting for smoking and elevation.

          Case-controlled studies may or may not have used controls in the same town, or at the same elevation, as those in the experimental group; there is simply no way to tell from the design or description of those studies, and lacking that information, their results must be viewed skeptically vis-a-vis radon. Which means that essentially all of the evidence that supports any danger from radon at the low levels seen in homes and buildings is unreliable at this point.

          I’ve also uploaded a graph showing residual lung cancer rates (after accounting for smoking and elevation in a two-variable model) plotted against mean radon levels for all 2678 counties that I studied:
          https://flic.kr/p/D7joQK

          So when the EPA says, “Consider taking action”, why would anyone do so, looking at these data? And when the EPA says, “Take action”, why would anyone do so, looking at these data? There is absolutely nothing here. Nothing. EPA’s guidelines are simply wrong.

          1. Keith,

            From the NY Times article, the criticism of “ecological” studies is more compelling than the defense, though you’ll surely have hours of fun massaging statistics with their open data and code.

            Thanks for the graph. You use averages – average radon levels and average cancer rates. If more lung cancers are associated with homes and workplaces where radon levels are higher than average in a county, and fewer lung cancers are in homes and workplaces where radon levels are below average in a county, this important detail is masked by the averaged data, and your graph would could look the same.

            The people who claim “benefits” from low levels harmful exposures should be obligated to demonstrate this with more compelling arguments than “ecological” studies. In the example of daily aspirins, doctors surely did case studies to support the effectiveness.

            Though case studies of radon may not specifically mention oxygen levels or altitudes, they do show lack of threshold, and increasing incidence of lung cancers with increasing radon levels.

            The scandal here is not that regulators won’t change regulations when faced with more and more studies with the same flaws. The scandal here is proponents of changes won’t, or can’t, do the work necessary to really prove their case. We’ll see how SARI does with the even more ambitious petition at NRC, eventually.

    2. @Mala

      Thanks for correcting my “correction” in the previous post. I indeed skipped three orders
      of magnitude and went from micro to pico. So the value is correct from that study i.e. outside plant radon activity was 51 pCi/L.

      But this translates to approximately 2 Bq/L. (converting pCi to Bq by dividing by 27). The blood and tissue in the lungs are dealing with about 115 Bq/L all day, every day, so the question is why would an extra 2 Bq/L cause any problems? That’s in the “noise” isn’t it? Even if it is extra alpha radiation in a sea of beta emissions.

      For Darby et. al. to say that radon is a likely carcinogen at all exposures reveals a misunderstanding of DNA repair mechanisms that we know exist. In fact such low
      exposure rates from radon are probably outside of the “hormetic” zone on the LOW side.
      Ironically, one has to take pains to INCREASE ones exposure in order receive any anti-carcinogenic effects from radon!

      1. William,

        Regarding “i.e. outside plant radon activity was 51 pCi/L.”

        It was not “outside plant.” It was “The average radon level in the plants”.

        Regarding “The blood and tissue in the lungs are dealing with about 115 Bq/L all day, every day, so the question is why would an extra 2 Bq/L cause any problems? That’s in the “noise” isn’t it? Even if it is extra alpha radiation in a sea of beta emissions.”

        The Quality Factor or Radiation Weighting Factor for alphas is around 20. So, no. It’s not in the “noise” even in this example; it’s around 33%, and more when location relative to lungs is considered. Recall, the levels in Watras’ home were supposedly 50+ times higher. Yes, at the 4 pCi/L EPA action level or lower, it does become more in “the noise,” and that starts to sound like a reasonable limit.

        Maybe you shouldn’t be so confident and enthusiastic about the noise, repair mechanisms, or increasing exposures.