Radon and Respiratory Health
- What is radon?
- Radon and risk of cancer
- Radon and smoking = greater risk
What is radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas formed by the breakdown of uranium in the earth's crust. It is present across the entire surface of the planet, but its distribution varies from one area to the next. When it seeps through a building's soil or foundation, its concentration level can be hazardous to human health. Radon is odourless, colourless and flavourless. It is therefore undetectable through the senses.
Radon and risk of cancer
People exposed to radon risk developing lung cancer. Such risk is evaluated over a long term and depends on 3 factors:
- Level of radon concentration
- Duration of exposure
- Smoking habits
Radon (gas) and its solid progenies present in the air can become trapped in the lungs where they disintegrate and emit alpha particles. These particles release energy that is absorbed by lung tissue, resulting in damage to the latter. When the pulmonary cells are damaged, they may cause cancer while reproducing.
It is estimated that 16% of lung-cancer-related deaths in Quebec are linked to radon exposure. As such, it ranks second as a leading cause of lung cancer, behind smoking.
Radon and smoking = greater risk
Over a long period, simultaneous exposure to tobacco smoke (including second-hand smoke) and high concentrations of radon multiply the risk of developing lung cancer :
Exposure to a high concentration of radon = 1 chance in 20
Smoking alone = 1 chance in 10
Exposure to a high concentration of radon + smoking = 1 chance in 3
Therefore, smokers and people in general would be wise to measure radon levels in their homes in order to protect their health and that of their loved ones.