American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

NRC Report on Health Effects of Exposure to Radon (4-27-98)

The National Research Council (NRC) recently released the sixth in a series of studies on radon entitled Health Risks of Exposure to Radon (BIER VI). At the request of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Committee examined 11 epidemio logical studies of underground miners, new data on lung cancer in the general population, and the latest biological data on cancer and alpha radiation. The committee concluded that radon contributes to 12 percent of lung cancer deaths each year, mostly am ong smokers. They found that the risk of developing lung cancer from radon is proportionate to the amount of exposure, and noted that about one-third of the radon-related lung cancer deaths each year could be prevented if radon levels in homes were reduce d to the EPA standard of 4 picocuries per liter of air.

The committee recognized that problems in converting radon risks from mines to homes exist and the miner population was all male. Other groups illuminated addition weaknesses in the study, such as physicist Bob Park who stated that the report "could ha ve been taken out of a time capsule." The Radiation, Science, and Health group held a press conference the day before the study was released to argue that radon is not only harmless but beneficial. They cited studies that found that lung cancer rates are consistently lowest in areas where radon levels are highest. Park noted that this "ecological" evidence was dismissed by the committee, who relied on case control studies.

The study was conducted by the Board on Radiation Effects Research under the direction of the NRC Commission on Life Sciences. It was chaired by Jonathan Samet of Johns Hopkins University. The full NAS press release with a link to the report is availab le on the NAS website. Copies of the Report are available from the National Academy Press (NAP) at a cost of $75.00 plus $4.00 shipping and handling. The NAP telephone number is (202) 334-3313 or 1-800- 624-6242.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Prepared by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs
Posted April 27, 1998

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