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  • BS Alert: More on the Radon Hoax

    Posted on June 12th, 2009 Vadim 77 comments Link to post
    Our article on Lies from Louisville’s Metro Health Department seems to have sparked an unusual amount of reader resistance; particularly on the issue of what we have termed “the radon hoax.” Reader “Dr. Field” says that we are “very ill informed,” and “presenting more disinformation.” He reminds us that his source for the “21,000” yearly radon-caused deaths is a “Dr. Lubin, … a scientist employed by the National Cancer Institute so he does not have to seek funding for research.” We pointed out that Lubin is neither a toxicologist nor a pathologist (he’s not even a medical doctor), and that he has a Ph.D. in something called “biostatistics.” We suggested that Dr. Lubin is a “self-styled epidemiologist, hustling for federal grant money to justify his attempts at scaring the crap out of homeowners by claiming they have deadly gas in their basements.”

    The National Cancer Institute is, of course, funded by the taxpayers. It’s current budget is almost 5 billion dollars, and its 2010 budget request is for an additional 2 billion, 100 million dollars. Dr. Lubin and his cohorts at NCI are very good at what they do: which is fundraising. Whether they are any good at finding a cure for cancer, is, on the other hand, a matter of some debate. President Nixon declared what came to be known as the “war on cancer” in 1971 in his State of the Union address. At first the war on cancer went poorly: despite a substantial increase in resources, age-adjusted cancer mortality increased by 8 percent between 1971 and 1990. After spending close to a trillion dollars, cancer mortality has started to decrease, but only slightly. Average five-year survival after cancer diagnosis has increased, over the past 50 years, from 50% to about 64%. Good news, but not great news.

    Reader Gloria Linnertz suggests we go to www.cansar.org, “to see the faces and read the stories of some of the individuals that discovered they were living with high levels of radon only after being diagnosed with lung cancer.”   She urges readers to test their homes for radon: “It’s very easy and if the level is 3 or higher, it is not difficult to fix.” Of course the sad anecdotal stories of cancer survivors on the web site are guaranteed to elicit a strong emotional response, but are a poor substitute for cold, hard, scientific fact. Deep in the cansar.org web site, it becomes clear that the bogus uranium miner studies are the source of the organization’s claim that exposure to the EPA’s 4 pCi/L “Action Level” creates a risk of lung cancer. The site claims that it is “…reasonable to extrapolate from the miner data to a residential situation…” And with that phrase, they give away the game. We’re not talking medical science here; we’re into the wonderland of statistical analysis and fraudulent epidemiology.

    Finally, reader “David” contends that “The scientific evidence on radon and lung cancer is as sure as it could ever be maybe you should acutally (sic.) read it! I am sure you also believe that smoking does not cause lung cancer and that global climate change is also a myth, your type usually does!” Well, we have read what the radon hoaxers claim is “scientific evidence,” and remain singularly unimpressed. And, yes, there are problems with the smoking/lung cancer research. Don’t get us started on global warming. “Our type” will tell you more about Al Gore’s little racket than you’d probably care to hear.

    Now, to the “scientific evidence” undergirding the radon scare. Unbeknownst to the public, studies often depend upon unproven — and often undisclosed assumptions. For example, the National Cancer Institute recently concluded that radon gas in homes causes 12,000 lung cancer deaths annually. True, some studies show that high levels of radon gas in underground uranium mines increased cancer rates among miners. But, the typical home isn’t an underground uranium mine, is it? NCI assumed that because high levels of radon increased cancer rates among miners, then any radon exposure increases cancer risk. This assumption, never scientifically validated, is then extrapolated into a mathematical model that calculates the 12,000 figure.

    Not only do many studies of radon in homes contradict this assumption, some even suggest that lower lung cancer rates occur in geographic areas with relatively higher levels of radon. While the Russians and Europeans look to radon for healthful effects (sometime using therapeutic concentrations of 100,000+ pCi/l), our fear-inducing radon industry is making big bucks by scaring the bejesus out of people.

    Reader Linnertz suggests that “It’s very easy and if the level is 3 or higher, it is not difficult to fix.” Local inspection services will charge you upwards of 200 bucks for a 48-hour measurement of the radon in your basement. Do you think they’ll find radon (the heaviest gas known)? Well, if you live over limestone strata (like in most of Metro Louisville), there is a constant level of background radiation; usually misinterpreted to indicate the presence of radon. You’ll be told “the EPA says that anything above 4 [pCi/l] is unacceptable.” Oh yeah, and the remediation costs start at about 2000 dollars.

    Much of the support for the radon hoax comes from a 1998 report from the National Research Council, a government-funded private organization, connected to the National Academy of Sciences. “Radon, particularly in combination with smoking, poses an important public health risk and it should be recognized as such,” said Dr. Jonathan Samet, a Johns Hopkins University professor and chairman of a NRC radon study committee. Another committee member, Dr. Eric Hall of Columbia University, opined: “A single Alpha particle is capable of producing quite profound damage.”   The committee noted that lung cancer can result from damage to a single cell.

    Based on mathematical models, the committee estimated that radon exposure played a role in 15,400 to 21,800 of the 157,400 lung cancer deaths reported in the United States in 1995. This would mean that radon exposure is second only to cigarette smoking in causing lung cancer. If radon levels in all American homes were reduced below the EPA-recommended levels, the NRC committee concluded, the number of radon-related lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers would be reduced by about 1,000.
    According to Jay Lehr, Ph.D., senior scientist with Environmental Education Enterprises, the cancer risk from low-level radiation is normally estimated by use of a linear no-threshold theory, which is a logical consequence of the view that a single particle of radiation hitting a single biological cell can initiate a cancer. The number of these initiating events would then be proportional to the number of particles of radiation and hence the dose. This theory however ignores the obvious biological defense mechanisms that prevent numerous initiating events from developing into cancers each day of our lives.

    There is now a substantial body of evidence which has been previously presented by T. D. Luckey (Radiation Hormesis. CRC PRESS, Boca Raton,FL. 1991), T. Sugahara, L. A. Sagan, and T. Aoyama (Low dose irradiation and biological defense mechanisms. Amsterdam: Excerpta Medica: 1992.), and E. J. Calabrese (Biological effects of low level exposures to chemicals and radiation. CRC Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. 1994.), indicating that low level radiation actually stimulates our biological defense mechanisms to work on our behalf. An early hint of this phenomenon came with detailed studies of those living near World War II atomic bomb blasts. At points distant from the blasts where radiation was minimal but existent, leukemia deaths among A-bomb survivors was below normal, while as expected, closer to the blast where radiation was high, leukemia deaths rose well above normal.

    Dr. Lehr suggests that the most persuasive evidence of this reverse phenomenon now appears in the report of the nation’s most comprehensive radon study, which appears in the February 1995 issue of Health Physics (Vol.68, No. 2) presented by Bernard L. Cohen of the University of Pittsburgh. Cohen used radon data from 1601 counties covering more than 80% of the US population. Data was derived either directly from measurements by a University of Pittsburgh research team or by USEPA or from data bases compiled by individual states. The data clearly show that there is a strong tendency for lung cancer rates to decrease with increasing radon exposure. The actual radiation/cancer relationship indicating a decline in cancer with an increase in low level radon radiation is in sharp contrast to the reverse relationship which coincides with the prevailing no threshold theory. (See: Cohen, B.L. Test of the linear-no threshold theory of radiation carcinogenesis for inhaled radon decay products. Health Phys 1995;68:157-174.)
    There exists a plethora of articles and advertising focusing on radon gas, radon testing and abatement, primarily from individuals and companies offering testing services or selling radon testing equipment. The Canadian and some European governments have set the “safe” indoor threshold at a level 5 times higher than the United States. This could explain why there is a lesser emphasis on testing and abatement in Canada, than in the United States.
    As for the “attack of the number-crunchers” upon us smokers, statistical studies have reported that populations of heavy smokers have gotten lung cancer at a rate 20 times greater than nonsmokers. As a result of such studies, researchers have concluded that smoking “causes” lung cancer. But is the cause-and-effect relationship that simple? Based on American Cancer Society statistics, one of every 10,000 nonsmokers gets lung cancer. If the rate of lung cancer among heavy smokers is 20 times greater, then out of every 10,000 heavy smokers, 20 will get lung cancer. This means that less than 1 percent of heavy smokers (20 out of 10,000) get lung cancer. Bet you never read that statistic in the Courier-Journal!

    Keep in mind the recent words of Dr. Charles Hennekens of the Harvard School of Public Health: “Epidemiology is a crude and inexact science. We tend to overstate findings either because we want attention or more grant money.”

    Maybe you hated math when you were in school. You probably learned the process of extrapolation with exercises such as: “2, 4, 8, 16, what comes next?” If you guessed “32,” you would be correct. That’s the way mathematical progressions work. But the real world of disease etiology doesn’t quite conform to that sort of mathematical prediction. And, when “scientists,” using “extrapolation,” claim that “invisible substances” in your basement are going to kill you, hold on to your wallet. They’re just after your money.

  • New Feature - Radiation Dose Culculator

    Posted on May 29th, 2009 Vadim 1 comment Link to post

    To understand background radiation and find out what is your natural background radiation levels are for any given year please check out our new radiation dose calculator -

    radculc