Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Radiation zaps bystanders


Radon causes about 17,000 cases of lung cancer in the US each year.

Radon may pose a greater cancer threat than has been thought.

Radon damage from irradiated cells spreads to their neighbours, a new study finds1. The result suggests that small amounts of this radioactive gas could cause widespread harm.

The study "is a reason for concern but not panic", says Gerhard Randers-Pehrson of Columbia University, New York, a member of the team that performed the study. "We’re talking about the acceptable level of radon changing perhaps by a factor of two, not 100."

Even this change could mean many more houses currently on the borderline of acceptable limits needing attention. Decaying uranium in granite rocks and soil releases radon.

Where there is a lot of granite, such as in the US Appalachian region, radon dissolved in water can seep through cracks in basement floors to produce potentially dangerous concentrations in homes. Ventilation and filling cracks in basement floors and walls can cut radon levels.

The results so far are for cells in culture. Radon exposure might not have the same effect on bodies, cautions Barry Michael of the Gray Cancer Institute in London. "The mix of cell types in living organisms might lead to a very different picture," he says.

Radon causes about 17,000 lung cancer cases in the United States each year, according to the US National Cancer Institute. Radioactive particles emitted by inhaled radon break DNA in cells, causing mutations that can lead to cancer.

Most estimates of the risk from low-level radon exposure are made by measuring cancer in people exposed to high radon levels, such as uranium mineworkers. Experts tend to assume that a person who receives half as much radiation as another, for example, has half the risk.

But irradiating just 10% of the cells in a culture resulted in nearly as many mutations irradiating them all, the Columbia found. Many cells not directly hit showed mutations, suggesting that simple extrapolation may underestimate the risk of a low dose of radon.

"It seems that when a cell is irradiated, it sends a signal to neighbour cells that causes them to get damaged too," says Randers-Peterson. "We don’t know why this happens."

Michael’s studies, on the other hand, have found that neighbouring cells cause irradiated cells to age, so that they die before becoming cancerous. "We need more research to understand the balance between damaging and protective impacts of low-dose irradiation," he says.

Further study is needed, agrees Randers-Pehrson. But he thinks that health experts should take note of his findings. "The reason we were doing this experiment was to help decide what kind of level is dangerous," he says.


  1. Zhou, H. et al. Radiation risk to low fluences of alpha particles may be greater than we thought. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98, 14410 - 14415, (2001).

ERICA KLARREICH | © Nature News Service
Further information:

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht NIH scientists describe potential antibody treatment for multidrug-resistant K. pneumoniae
14.03.2018 | NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

nachricht Researchers identify key step in viral replication
13.03.2018 | University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>