Harvard Health Letter

Radon revisited

The early warnings may have been overblown, but research since has shown that lung cancer risk from the gas is real.

Americans held their collective breath when news of radon, a radioactive gas, seeped into the headlines during the 1980s. Scientists had seemingly found lung cancer–causing monsters in basements across the nation.

But radon turned out to be more of a midsize gremlin than a giant ogre. Only a few years after making a big splash, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scaled back its 1986 estimate of radon-related deaths. Estimates of the number of contaminated homes were similarly reduced. Press coverage fizzled, and there seemed to be collective muttering about a false alarm.

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