What are the symptoms of radon poisoning?
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
This is a difficult question to answer because radon does not fit the common definition of “poison.” When you think of poison, most people expect it to be a substance that causes immediate sickness or death upon exposure, like cyanide, or one that results in illness due to long-term exposure and gradual accumulation in the body, such as lead poisoning.
Radon does not fit either of those models. It is an odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas that is a radioactive byproduct of uranium in the soil. Radon is present at a low level in the air everyone breathes every day. Higher levels of radon are the problem.
According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control (CDC), “Many scientists believe that the alpha radiation dose from long-term exposure to elevated levels of radon progeny in air increases your chance of developing lung cancer. Cigarette smoking greatly increases your chance of developing lung cancer if you are exposed to radon and radon progeny at the same levels as people who do not smoke.”
The italics and underlining of “increases your chance of getting lung cancer” were added by us to highlight the main problem when talking about radon poisoning. Exposure to high levels of radon gas does not automatically lead to lung cancer, but it does increase your likelihood of getting it.
Radon is rated as a human carcinogen by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA). The greater your exposure to radon, especially if you smoke cigarettes, the greater your chance of getting lung cancer. It’s that simple.
But exposure to high levels of radon is not an automatic lung cancer death sentence. There are no immediate symptoms of radon poisoning upon exposure, and the long-term possibility would be acquiring lung cancer symptoms, such as chest or rib pain, chronic cough, and fatigue.
Just because there are no immediate symptoms or guarantee of getting lung cancer doesn’t mean that high levels of radon in your home should be ignored. The CDC estimates that thousands of lung cancer deaths each year are caused by radon. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking. Learn more about this statistic at our blog post How was it determined that between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths each year are caused by radon?
Unfortunately, not everyone accepts the science behind the radon problem. In fact, some folks think radon is a cure-all for what ails you and pay $15 for a day pass to the Merry Widow Health Mine in Montana, for the opportunity to breathe high-radon air and drink radon water. Here’s a link to the New York Times article about this phenomenon: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/17/business/radon-water.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage
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