Radon in the News

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Ole Raaschou-Nielsen, Institute of Cancer Epidemiology, Danish Cancer Society, Strandboulevarden 49, 2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
This paper summarizes the epidemiological literature on domestic exposure to radon and risk for childhood leukemia. The results of 12 ecological studies show a consistent pattern of higher incidence and mortality rates for childhood leukemia in areas with higher average indoor radon concentrations. Although the results of such studies are useful to generate hypotheses, they must be interpreted with caution, as the data were aggregated and analyzed for geographical areas and not for individuals. The seven available case–control studies of childhood leukemia with measurement of radon concentrations in the residences of cases and controls gave mixed results, however, with some indication of a weak (relative risk < 2) association with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The epidemiological evidence to date suggests that an association between indoor exposure to radon and childhood leukemia might exist, but is weak. More case–control studies are needed, with sufficient statistical power to detect weak associations and based on designs and methods that minimize misclassification of exposure and provide a high participation rate and low potential selection bias.

Alzheimer's & Parkinson's - Could the Cause be Radon?

In a study conducted at the University of North Dakota, researchers discovered that the presence of radioactive radon daughters in the brains of non-smoking persons with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease was 10 times greater than it was in the brains of persons with no previous evidence of neurological disorders.

August 2, 2004 -- In a study conducted at the University of North Dakota, researchers discovered that the presence of radioactive radon daughters in the brains of non-smoking persons with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease was 10 times greater than it was in the brains of persons with no previous evidence of neurological disorders. Professor Glenn Lykken and Dr. Berislav Momcilovic assert their study demonstrates that indoor radon gas has the capacity to irreversibly infest the brain with the poisonous progeny of radioactive heavy metals.

Recently revised EPA risks assessments estimate 21,000 Americans die annually from radon induced lung cancer, 150% higher than their 1994 estimate. However, scientists are increasingly suspicious that radon may be linked to disease in other parts of the body as well.

When inhaled, radon gas accumulates in lipid tissue throughout the body with the highest concentration in the brain, bone marrow, and nervous system. Additionally, one-third of the inhaled radon decay products (radioactive particles produced when the gas decays) pass from the lungs into the blood stream indicating that the gas does not flow quickly in and out of the lungs, but lingers in the body.

Previous study at UND determined that once radon is rapidly absorbed into the body from the lung, a fraction accumulates in the brain resulting in increased gamma ray emissions from bismuth-214 (one of the radioactive radon decay products) and altered EEG signals.

While radon is a lipid-soluble gas that can move freely in and out of the brain despite the blood-brain barrier, none of the transmuted heavy metal radon daughters are soluble in the lipids, meaning they remain trapped in the brain where they emit gamma radiation and alpha particles resulting in both radiation and chemical injury to the brain cells.

Of keen interest was the unexpected discovery that the radioactivity selectively accrues to the brain proteins in the Alzheimer's victims and to the brain lipids in the Parkinson's victims. This pathognomonic distribution was inferred to reflect the increase of local chlorine availability to which the radon daughters bound selectively.

Once present, the most likely candidate for radiation injury appears to be the highly radiosensitive astrocytes rather than the more radioresistant neurons, which do not divide. Other studies have indicated the astrocytes may be involved in Alzheimer's disease and the amyloid deposits and neurofibrillatory tangling observed with Alzheimer's may well reflect the response to radiation injury of the astrocytes.

Interestingly enough, the geographic distribution of Parkinson's disease mortality is considerably higher in states with greater radon potential, according to research by D.J. Lansak of the University of Kentucky and published in the Journal of Neurological Sciences.

An estimated 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, the number having doubled in the last 25 years. An estimated 1.5 million Americans have Parkinson's disease with 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
University of North Dakota researchers are looking for more funding to continue their research. To access the study in its entirety, please go to
www.radonnews.org or the Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders Magazine. Contact: Professor G.I. Lykken at UND at (701) 777 - 3519.

Home Radon May Have Tie To Childhood Leukemia

NEW YORK JUL 18, 2008 (Reuters Health) - Children who live in homes with high radon levels may be at increased risk for acute lymphoblastic leukemia during childhood, but not other childhood cancers, research from Denmark suggests.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a cancer of infection-fighting white blood cells. Outside of fetal exposure to X-rays and genetic conditions, the causes or risk factors associated with childhood ALL are poorly understood.

Higher rates of childhood cancer, and particularly leukemia, have been observed in geographic regions with higher levels of radon -- a natural radioactive gas that emanates from soils and can concentrate inside houses. Yet, studies assessing links between breathing radon gas and the risk for childhood cancer have yielded mixed results.

Against this backdrop, Dr. Ole Raaschou-Nielsen of the Institute for Cancer Epidemiology in Copenhagen, and colleagues looked at the lifetime radon exposures of 2,400 children who had been diagnosed with cancer between 1968 and 1994, and 6,697 cancer-free children.

All the children were born and living in Denmark, and were age 15 or younger. One-year radon measurements from regions in which the children lived were used to predict cumulative radon exposure.

The researchers found that children exposed to "intermediate" levels of radon had a 21 percent higher risk of developing ALL relative to children exposed to the lowest levels of radon. Children with the highest radon exposures had a 63 percent greater risk of ALL relative to those with the least exposure.

These associations held up in further analyses that factored in other characteristics potentially associated with increased cancer risk, such as mother's age, birth order, traffic density around the home, electromagnetic field exposures, and the building type of each home.

Raaschou-Nielsen and colleagues, who report their findings in the medical journal Epidemiology, say they have no obvious biological explanation for the suggested association between radon exposure and ALL.

In related commentary, Dr. Andrew F. Olshan, at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, cautions that these findings may just be a signal to devise long-term, progressively refined studies that may or may not reveal definitive answers.

"The etiology of childhood cancer has remained elusive, especially with regard to possible environmental influences," Olshan noted.

# SOURCE:Epidemiology, July 2008