It is estimated that radon exposure is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year, radon and is the number two source of lung cancer in America after smoking and has been labeled a major health risk by a number of U.S. health organizations. Radon decay products, when inhaled, can damage the cells in your lungs, which can lead to cancer.
The rate at which radon exposure leads to lung cancer, depends on the amount of radon you are exposed to and for how long. Additionally, existing health issues, or if you are a smoker, or used to be a smoker, can put you at a higher risk of lung cancer when combined with exposure to radon.
Radon Risk if You Smoke
For people who smoke, or have smoked regularly in the past, the risk of developing lung cancer from radon exposure is compounded due to the cooperative effects of radon and smoking.
According to the EPA, "a person who has never smoked (never smoker) who is exposed to 1.3 pCi/L has a 2 in 1,000 chance of lung cancer; while a smoker has a 20 in 1,000 chance of dying from lung cancer."¹
Radon Exposure vs. Exposure Time
Studies have shown that exposure to a high amount of radon for a short period of time is equivalent to exposure to a low amount of radon for a long period of time. In other words, exposure to 2 pCi/L for 10 years is equivalent to exposure of 10 pCi/L for 2 years.
The likelihood of developing negative health effects from radon depends on both the exposure time and the exposure concentration.
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1. EPA.gov, "Health Risk of Radon", accessed April 1, 2022, https://www.epa.gov/radon/health-risk-radon#head.