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	Attached is an opinion piece by editorial writer, David Averill.  
The article appeared in the Sunday, July 28, 1996, issue of the Tulsa World
.  I encouraged Mr. Averill to write the article and acted as a background 
source.  I'm not sure Mr. Averill got everything exactly right, but I think 
he did an admirable job in presenting a complex issue to the public.  Some 
of you have an interest in this topic.  You should also encourage your 
local press to address this issue.  The public is asked to spend large sums 
of money on residential radon.  The public has a right to know how and why 
their money is being spent.  


Radon:  The Sky Isn't Really Falling 

By David Averill, Editorial Writer 

Suppose, for the sake of scientific research, that you heated 1,000 pots of 
water to boiling - 212 degrees Fahrenheit - and had 1,000 people stick 
their hands in them for 30 seconds.  You would find that 1,000 people 
suffered fairly severe burns to their hands.  

Then, let's say you wished to apply, or extrapolate, your findings to less 
risky situations.  You might assume, based on your original finding, that 
if you were to have another 1,000 subjects stick their hands in water 
heated to half the boiling temperature - 106 degrees Fahrenheit - 500 of 
them would suffer serious burns.  Further, you might extrapolate your 
findings to the broader population and estimate that half of all serious 
burn incidents in the nation were caused by hands being plunged into 106-
degree water.  

That, of course, is ludicrous.  Water at 106 degrees is just a little 
warmer than normal body temperature.  You could hold your hand in it all 
day long and not get burned.  

Yet that is essentially the process -- extrapolation from a worst-case 
scenario -- that led the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1980s to 
warn that low levels of radon gas sometimes found in homes were responsible 
for up to 10 percent of the 150,000 or so lung cancer deaths in the United 
States each year.  

The EPA recommended that homeowners test for radon and if they found levels 
of 4 picocuries per liter of air, that they take remedial action, such as 
installing fans or vents to prevent accumulations of the gas.  Americans 
have spent an estimated $400 million on radon testing and remediation.  

Now there is a growing body of scientific evidence, including a credible 
new study from Finland that was announced earlier this month, that there is 
no connection between residential levels of radon and lung cancer.  

Although the radon scare is nearly a decade old, the issue is timely 
because of the Finnish study and because the Nationaluncil on Radiation 
Protection, which conducted the study upon which the EPA warnings were 
based, is restudying the issue.  There is a fear that the council will 
repeat original missteps and simply reconfirm its original findings. 

Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that is formed from the decay of uranium 
and radium in soil and rocks.  It can accumulate in small amounts in houses 
and buildings.  When inhaled into the lungs, radon leaves radioisotopes 
which, in heavy enough doses and over time, can cause lung cancer.  

The key phrase there is "heavy enough doses."  

David S. Gooden, director of biomedical physics at Tulsa's Saint Francis 
Hospital, says that the radiation protection council, in its original 
scientific survey, ignored studies that showed no link between low levels 
of radiation and lung cancer.  

Gooden, who enjoys a national reputation in the field, says that one of the 
oldest and most famous of the studies began in the early 1950s.  It dealt 
with workers who painted watch dials with glow-in-the-dark radium (and who 
frequently licked their brushes to keep the tips sharp).  When the studies 
were terminated in the 1980s, after 30 years, no abnormally high rates of 
lung cancer had been found among the watch-dial painters.  

In the recent Finnish study, researchers analyzed residential exposure to 
radon among 1,055 lung cancer patients and compared the findings with radon 
exposure of 1,544 people without lung cancer.  Researchers at the Finnish 
Centre for Radiation and Nuclear Safety concluded that "radon exposure does 
not appear to be an important cause of lung cancer."  

Gooden says that despite EPA estimates that 10 percent of the nation's lung 
cancer deaths are caused by residential radon, no study has identified any 
such cases.  There is no scientific or statistical link.  

The problem is the manner in which the EPA warnings evolved.  

The radiation protection council's role was not to conduct original 
scientific research, but to review the existing scientific literature -- 
previous findings -- and look for consensus.  It relied on statistics 
involving hard rock miners in West Virginia who were exposed to extremely 
high levels of radon, and who developed lung cancer with abnormally high 

The council established what is known in scientific circles as a "linear, 
no threshold model" to extrapolate the lung cancer numbers among high-risk 
miners to lesser exposures.  "Linear" in this case means straight-ahead, 
directly proportional:  If radiation exposure at a certain level is linked 
to a number of lung cancer deaths, then a proportionately smaller radon 
dose must cause a proportionately smaller number of cancer deaths.  

Trouble is, nothing in nature is linear.  Remember the admittedly silly 
analogy with 212-degree water and 106-degree water.  The council and the 
EPA erred in extrapolating downward numbers from one limited, worst-case 
study, and in disregarding studies that found no link between low-level 
radiation and lung cancer.  

Furthermore, the original study of the miners were flawed.  It dealt with 
mining conditions that no longer exist:  Dust was so thick that miners 
could barely see their hands in front of their faces, ventilation was 
inadequate, diesel and other potentially hazardous fumes hung in the 
underground atmosphere.  The study did not take into account other factors: 
 Many of the miners were heavy smokers, for example.  

The radiation protection council's survey and resulting EPA warnings appear 
to fall into the category of junk science, which is done to confirm a 
preconceived opinion -- in this case that residential radon causes cancer -
- not for the sake of scientific inquiry.  The purposes of junk science are 
to frighten people, to loosen governmental purse strings, to affect public 

The council and the EPA now have the opportunity to correct earlier 
missteps, to apply serious science, not junk science, to the radiation 
issue.  It may be easier said than done.  There are human egos involved, 
after all, and economics.  Radon testing and remediation have become good 
business -- $400 million spent to date in the United States.  Ending the 
radon scare would cost jobs and income.  

EPA should go the serious-science route.  Please, no more Chicken Little 
warnings without solid evidence.  There are enough real hazards in everyday 
life without inventing make-believe ones to frighten people.