From the February 2002 Idaho Observer:
Sleeping radon hoax from early 90s reawakened in 2002
Regulators capitalizing on nation's 9-11-induced fear of unseen enemies -- regardless of facts or science
Two years ago Tom Macy produced a research paper showing science discredits the radon scare as a hoax. We believed then that radon was used as a cover for strict building codes requiring homes and buildings to be airtight and energy efficient -- causing people to get sick from breathing fumes emanating from synthetic carpet fibers, paints, floor finishes and solvents. However, Macy's research was not timely two years ago as the dominant media had put the issue to bed -- until January 16, 2002. CdA, Spokane radon levels highest in region was the headline attached to a story by Spokesman-Review staff writer Susan Drumheller. As an odorless and invisible gas by-product of the decomposition of uranium in soil, experts claim that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the nation. Drumheller's article appears to be a vehicle to rekindle public hysteria over the unseen radon enemy so Kootenai county officials will be supported in their efforts to implement a regulatory scheme protecting the public from a problem that doesn't exist.
By Tom Macy
Prior to the 1850s, scientific endeavors were marred by the lack of a specified set of procedures for conducting inquiries. In many (if not most) cases, it was common to find mere opinions being passed off as facts and unsupported speculations being heralded as profound discoveries.
The Scientific Method, as the accepted procedure came to be called, consists of the following steps: 1) Problem identification; 2) data collection; 3) formulation of hypothesis; 4) empirically testing the hypothesis and; 5) publishing the results for peer review.
By adhering to this rather rigid framework, it became possible to limit the amount of erroneous data that was collected and to coordinate the work of researchers on a worldwide basis. Unfortunately, it appears that research into the radon issue has not followed this model.
Before about 1970, radon was regarded as something of a laboratory curiosity and was used mainly for therapeutic purposes. One textbook refers to it as nasty stuff and it was generally regarded to be a health hazard for workers in laboratories and hospitals where it was in use. Up to that point it appears that very little analytical work had been done with it because of the difficulties encountered in its handling.
Sometime in the early 1970s a serious problem was reportedly noticed at a uranium mine in Europe. It seems that the miners were contracting lung cancer at a rate 50 times higher than normal. A study of some sort was apparently conducted and it was concluded that the cancer was being caused by radon.
No information appears to be available regarding the location of the mine, who may have conducted the study, or what methods were employed in arriving at the conclusion presented. What is obvious, however, is that this was the beginning of the worldwide indictment of radon as a public health hazard. Many of the reports that have been published regarding the radon hazard nebulously refer to the European uranium mine.
Subsequent studies were conducted in the U.S. and involved coal miners in Pennsylvania. It has been reported that the data and conclusions originating from the uranium mine study were supported by the coal mine results. Again, the studies themselves have been impossible to locate and no data from them appears in the reports that are available. There is also a complete lack of information about who made such studies or which mines were involved.
A review of the material that is readily available to the consumer has illuminated one very important fact. There is absolutely no mention made of any qualitative or quantitative analytical techniques that might have been used to identify the radon that is supposedly present in homes all across America and around the world. The only measurements that are ever identified are those that detect the presence of radioactivity.
If radon were the only radioactive element in the universe, simply checking for the presence of radioactivity would be sufficient. But there are literally hundreds of radiation sources, both natural and man-made. The purpose of this paper is to point out the futility of trying to sort out which element is responsible when we live in a veritable stew of low-level radioactive sources. We eat, drink, breathe, bathe in and eliminate dozens of such materials every day.
The only reason that the radon story has retained any credibility at all is because its promoters, including the EPA and other government agencies, can depend upon the general public's ignorance of the science involved. The only way that anyone can begin to unscramble the misinformation is by understanding the problem. In order to accomplish that, radon and all of its relatives should be studied along with some of the ideas on how they interact with the rest of the world.
The following information was taken from the prestigious CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics; 68th edition:
1. Radon is but one of 14 radioactive elements that are created as Uranium 238 disintegrates to become Lead 206
2. The half-life for the whole 14-step process is 4.5 billion years -- it takes 10 half-lives for 99.9 percent of the radioactive material to decay
3. The half-life for radon is 3.8 days -- 99.9 percent of the radon in any given sample will be gone in 38 days
4. It takes seven tons of uranium ore to produce 1 gram of radium (radium is radon's parent)
5. One gram of radium will emanate 0.0001 ml. (1 ten-millionth of a liter) of radon per day
6. One square mile of soil six inches deep contains approx. 1 gram of radium
7. Radium emits alpha and beta particles as well as gamma rays.
8. Radon emits alpha particles only
The following information has been derived from a variety of physics, chemistry and geology textbooks:
1. Geologists use a process called radiometric dating in order to establish the age of rocks
2. In this process, the amount of Uranium 238 is compared to the amount of Lead 206
3. Since the 14-step decay process takes a known amount of time for the uranium to disintegrate to Lead 206, younger rocks will have more uranium while older rocks will have more lead
4. This process PRESUMES that the entire decay process takes place within the rock and that NONE OF THE DECAY PRODUCTS (INCLUDING RADON) is able to escape.
( Note: It is possible that a small amount of radon is able to leave the rock matrix if it is formed very near the surface of the rock or if the rock is very finely pulverized. If a significant amount were to routinely escape, the uranium dating method would be useless.)
The above information leads to the following inescapable conclusions: Under laboratory conditions, extremely small amounts of radon are produced and collected (It is not likely that these results are indicative of what occurs in the field because the laboratory sample is pure, refined radium while the field variety is trapped in rock matrices and widely distributed throughout non-uniform conditions). If the entire daily production from one gram of radium were uniformly distributed over an area one-mile square and 8 to 10 feet high, the amount per unit of air would be extraordinarily small. Since most of the radon produced in rocks and soils is likely to stay there to become Lead 206, the amount available for distribution is so small that it approximates zero.
On the other hand, data obtained from www.physics.isu.edu/radinf/natural.htm in an article titled Radioactivity in Nature under the heading Food it is discovered that Brazil Nuts contain from 1,000 to 7000 pico curies per kilogram (pCi/kg).* There are approximately 120 nuts in a kilogram so each nut contains from 8.33 to 58.33 pCi of radium. Compare this to the 4 pCi/liter safety limit established by the EPA for radon in room air. Radium is far more dangerous because will replace calcium in bone structures and irradiate the marrow -- a known cause of leukemia.
But what of the miners?
They really died of lung cancer, we are told.
The most likely explanation for this entire scenario goes something like this:
1. The mining company is negligent in providing the miners with adequate breathing equipment
2. The miners breathe the mining dust containing at least 14 different radioactive elements
3. The miners get sick and die
4. The company seeks a way of avoiding any liability for the problem and hires someone to invent a cover story -- it is very successful; they can hardly be held responsible for something that occurs naturally
5. The story is picked up by the American Tobacco Institute which is looking for an alternate explanation for the causes of lung cancer in smokers
6. The ATI provides funds for research, hoping to avoid liability, as did the mining company
7. The ploy did not work, but misguided researchers confused laboratory data from the research by applying it to field conditions to make it appear that radon is a major health hazard.
8. The radon abatement industry is born!
This is a very brief treatment of a complicated subject. There is obviously much more that could be said about it that space limitations do not permit. This writer recommends that each reader do a little research of his/her own. You may be surprised at the amount of contradictory information that is available.
Tom Macy has been studying the radon issue for several years. He is currently in the process of completing the first draft of his study and preparing it for submission to the scientific community for peer review.
* A picoCurie is one-trillionth of a Curie, the unit of measure for radioactive material.
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