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Health Effects of Exposure to Radon: BEIR VI
miners were almost all men, whereas the population exposed to radon in homes includes men, women, and children.
The committee used the information from miners and supplemented it with information from laboratory studies of how radon causes lung-cancer. Then, with facts about the U.S. population, including measurements of radon levels in homes, it estimated the number of lung-cancer deaths due to radon in homes. In 1995, about 157,400 people died of lung-cancer (from all causes including smoking and radon exposure) in the United States. Of the 95,400 men who died of lung-cancer, about 95% were probably ever-smokers; of the 62,000 women, about 90% were probably ever-smokers. Approximately 11,000 lung-cancer deaths are estimated to have occurred in never-smokers in 1995.
The BEIR VI committee's preferred central estimates, depending on which one of the two models are used, are that about 1 in 10 or 1 in 7 of all lung-cancer deaths—amounting to central estimates of about 15,400 or 21,800 per year in the United States—can be attributed to radon among ever-smokers and never-smokers together. Although 15,400 or 21,800 total radon-related lung-cancer deaths per year are the committee's central estimates, uncertainties are involved in these estimates. The committee's preferred estimate of the uncertainties was obtained by using a simplified analysis of a constant relative risk model based on observations closest to residential exposure levels. The number of radon-related lung-cancer deaths resulting from that analysis could be as low as 3,000 or as high as 33,000 each year. Most of the radon-related lung-cancers occur among ever-smokers, and because of synergism between smoking and radon, many of the cancers in ever-smokers could be prevented by either tobacco control or reduction of radon exposure. The committee's best estimate is that among the 11,000 lung-cancer deaths each year in never-smokers, 2,100 or 2,900, depending on the model used, are radon-related lung-cancers.
Radon, being naturally occurring, cannot be entirely eliminated from our homes. Of the deaths that the committee attributes to radon (both independently and through joint action with smoking), perhaps one-third could be avoided by reducing radon in homes where it is above the ''action guideline level" of 148 Bqm-3 (4 pCiL-1) to below the action levels recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The risk of lung-cancer caused by smoking is much higher than the risk of lung-cancer caused by indoor radon. Most of the radon-related deaths among smokers would not have occurred if the victims had not smoked. Furthermore, there is evidence for a synergistic interaction between smoking and radon. In other words, the number of cancers induced in ever-smokers by radon is greater than one would expect from the additive effects of smoking alone and radon alone. Nevertheless, the estimated 15,400 or 21,800 deaths attributed to radon in combination with cigarette-smoking and radon alone in never-smokers constitute a public-health problem.