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.