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Brussels, 23 December 2004

Radon gas in homes increases lung cancer risk

A new study of the risk from exposure to radon gas in homes has been published in the British Medical Journal*. The results confirm that domestic exposure to radon leads to an increased risk of lung cancer, in particular among smokers. This increased risk is proportional to the concentration of radon gas in the home and is apparent at concentrations below current remedial action levels used in most European countries. The results show that radon in homes is responsible for about 20,000 lung cancer deaths in the European Union each year. This is about 9% of the total lung cancer deaths in the Union and about 2% of cancer deaths overall.

The study - co-funded by the European Commission - combines information from 13 smaller studies across Europe and is the largest ever into the effects of radon exposure in the home. Previous such studies have not been large enough to assess the risks reliably.  Nor have they been able to examine risks separately in smokers and non-smokers.

For any given level of radon, smokers have about 25 times the risk of developing lung cancer as non-smokers.  Radon can also cause lung cancer in non-smokers but the risk is low.

Radon is a naturally occurring, colourless, odourless, radioactive gas found at varying levels in all houses across the Union.  It is formed from the natural decay of uranium, which is present in ordinary surface rock and in soil. Radon that diffuses into the atmosphere usually disperses rapidly but it can accumulate indoors, especially in small buildings. Radon concentrations in houses vary widely throughout the Union and within individual countries depending on the underlying geology and the method of construction.

High radon levels in existing houses can usually be reduced at modest cost by changes to the ventilation system, such as improving under-floor air bricks and extracting radon from beneath the building with a fan. For new buildings, low concentrations can be achieved, at low cost by installing membranes across the full footprint of the building.

The Commission issued a Recommendation (90/143/EURATOM) in 1990 on the protection of the public against indoor radon. It emphasised the need for Member States to conduct surveys to identify dwellings with a potential for high radon concentrations and to provide adequate information in response to public concern.

For further information:

S C Darby et alia. Radon in homes and risk of lung cancer: collaborative analysis of individual data from 13 European case-control studies.

See BMJ website at

paper will be published early 2005.

page 133 (table 24 see: « means »)

This data is published in the UNSCEAR 2000 Report (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation UNSCEAR 2000 Report to the General Assembly)

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