high levels of radon and also to cigarette-smoking. The connection between radon and lung-cancer in miners has raised concern that radon in homes might be causing lung-cancer in the general population, although the radon levels in most homes are much lower than in most mines. The National Research Council study, which has been carried out by the sixth Committee on Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR VI), has used the most recent information available to estimate the risks posed by exposure to radon in homes.
The most direct way to assess the risks posed by radon in homes is to measure radon exposures among people who have lung-cancer and compare them with exposures among people who have not developed lung-cancer. Several such studies have been completed, and several are under way. The studies have not produced a definitive answer, primarily because the risk is likely to be very small at the low exposure encountered from most homes and because it is difficult to estimate radon exposures that people have received over their lifetimes. In addition, it is clear that far more lung-cancers are caused by smoking than are caused by radon.
Since a valid risk estimate could not be derived only from the results of studies in homes, the BEIR VI committee chose to use the lung-cancer information from studies of miners, who are more heavily exposed to radon, to estimate the risks posed by radon exposures in homes. In particular, the committee has drawn on 11 major studies of underground miners, which together involved about 68,000 men, of whom 2,700 have died from lung-cancer. The committee statistically analyzed the data to describe how risk of death from lung-cancer depended on exposure. In this way, the committee derived two models for lung-cancer risk from radon exposure.
In converting radon risks from mines to homes, the committee was faced with several problems. First, most miners received radon exposures that were, on the average, many times larger than those of people in most homes; people in a few homes actually receive radon exposures similar to those of some miners. It was necessary for the committee to estimate the risks posed by exposures to radon in homes on the basis of observed lung-cancer deaths caused by higher exposures in mines. The committee agreed with several earlier groups of experts that the risk of developing lung-cancer increases linearly as the exposure increases; for example, doubling the exposure doubles the risk, and halving the exposure halves the risk. Furthermore, the existing biologic evidence suggests that any exposure, even very low, to radon might pose some risk. However, from the evidence now available, a threshold exposure, that is, a level of exposure below which there is no effect of radon, cannot be excluded.
The second problem is that the majority of miners in the studies are smokers and all inhale dust and other pollutants in mines. Because radon and cigarette smoke both cause lung-cancer, it is complicated to disentangle the effects of the 2 kinds of exposure. That makes it especially difficult to estimate radon risks for nonsmokers in homes using the evidence from miners. A final problem is that the