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Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 22:51 GMT 23:51 UK
Natural gas 'a cancer menace'
Radon gas is a 'health hazard'
A major study of the effect of long-term exposure to radon gas in the home has produced compelling evidence that it increases the risk of developing lung cancer.

A US research team say they have carried out the most sophisticated analysis of exposure to the naturally-occurring gas ever attempted.

They concluded that it presents a "significant environmental health risk".

The findings are in line with 1998 investigation by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund which found that 1,800 of the 37,000 a year deaths from lung cancer in the UK are directly linked to radon.

The four-year US study focused on 1,027 women - 413 had been newly diagnosed with lung cancer, and the rest were healthy.

radon exposure is a significant cause of lung cancer

Professor Charles Lynch, University of Iowa

All had lived in their homes for at least 20 years.

The researchers found levels of radon in the basement of the women's homes exceeded US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines for 60% of the subjects.

Radon concentrations exceeding the EPA's action level of 4 picoCuries per litre were also found in the living areas of 33% of the women with lung cancer, and 28% of the healthy women.

Even at the 4 pCi/L level, the researchers found that the risk of lung cancer was 50% higher.

'Signficant cause of cancer'

Lead researcher Professor Charles Lynch, of the University of Iowa, said: "What this indicates is that residential radon exposure is a significant cause of lung cancer."

Most previous studies have focused on only one or two radon measurements in a home to determine exposure.

If my house had high levels of radon gas I would have it reduced

Professor Sarah Darby, Imperial Cancer Research Fund

The new study recorded data from at least four radon detection devices placed in different areas of the home for at least one year.

Professor Sarah Darby, of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said there was no "incontrovertible evidence" that radon gas posed a cancer risk.

However, she said the full impact would not be known until a the results of 23 studies world-wide had been fully analysed. The results of this analysis are due out next year.

Professor Darby told BBC News Online: "If my house had high levels of radon gas I would have it reduced, particularly if I had children and I was a smoker."

Radon is an odourless, tasteless and colourless radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of radium in soil, rock and water.

Equipment is available that can suck away radon gas as it emerges from the ground, so that it does not contaminate buildings.

The results are published in the June 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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