The Radon Health Risk

Graph of Radon Health Risk

Radon is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year,
according to EPA’s 2003 Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes
(EPA 402-R-03-003). The numbers of deaths from other causes —
Home Fires (2,800), Secondhand Smoke (3,000), Drownings (3,900),
Falls in the Home (8,000), Drunken Driving (17,400) — are taken from
the Centers for Control and Prevention’s 1999-2001 National Center for
Injury Prevention and Control Report and 2002 National Safety Council
Reports and EPA Health Effects of Exposure to Secondhand Smoke.

Source: U.S. EPA publication 402-K-07-009, A Citizen’s Guide to Radon

According to EPA estimates, exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year, more than drunk driving, household falls, drowning, or home fires.

Lung cancer is the only health effect which has been definitively linked with radon exposure. There is no evidence that other respiratory diseases, such as asthma, are caused by radon exposure and there are no immediate symptoms from exposure to radon. Smokers are at higher risk of developing radon-induced lung cancer.

However, as with those who smoke, not everyone exposed to high levels of radon will develop lung cancer, and the time between exposure and the onset of cancer may be many (5-25) years.

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Risk Factors to Consider

Your individual living patterns could influence your assessment of your personal risk. Your answers to the following questions may help you evaluate your personal risk.

  • Does anyone smoke in your home?
    Scientific evidence indicates that smoking combined with radon is a very serious health risk. If a person smokes and is exposed to radon, the risk of lung cancer is much greater than radon exposure alone as described in the risk assessment chart below.
Radon Level a Lifetime Risk of Lung Cancer Death (per person) from Radon Exposure in Homes b
pCi/l Never Smokers Current Smokers c General Population
20 36 out of 1,000 26 out of 100 11 out of 100
10 18 out of 1,000 15 out of 100 56 out of 1,000
8 15 out of 1,000 12 out of 100 45 out of 1,000
4 73 out of 10,000 62 out of 1,000 23 out of 1,000
2 37 out of 10,000 32 out of 1,000 12 out of 1,000
1.25 23 out of 10,000 20 out of 1,000 73 out of 10,000
0.4 73 out of 100,000 64 out of 10,000 23 out of 10,000
a  Assumes constant lifetime exposure in homes at these levels.
b  Estimates are subject to uncertainties as discussed in Chapter VIII of the risk assessment.
c  Note:  BEIR VI did not specify excess relative risks for current smokers.Source:
  • Do you have children living at home?
    Young children’s lungs are smaller and their respiratory rates are twice as high as adults. They may also spend more time inside the house. Combined with their respiratory rate and length of exposure to elevated radon levels means children are exposed to the radon health risk at a much higher rate than adults.

Adapted with permission of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension from the Nevada Radon Education Program website.

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