Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Radiation zaps bystanders

04.12.2001


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


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.

References

  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:
http://www.nature.com/nsu/011206/011206-7.html

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Scientists find new approach that shows promise for treating cystic fibrosis
14.03.2019 | NIH/National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

nachricht Lab grown ‘brains’ successfully model disease
13.03.2019 | Max-Planck-Institut für Psychiatrie

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: Revealing the secret of the vacuum for the first time

New research group at the University of Jena combines theory and experiment to demonstrate for the first time certain physical processes in a quantum vacuum

For most people, a vacuum is an empty space. Quantum physics, on the other hand, assumes that even in this lowest-energy state, particles and antiparticles...

Im Focus: Sussex scientists one step closer to a clock that could replace GPS and Galileo

Physicists in the EPic Lab at University of Sussex make crucial development in global race to develop a portable atomic clock

Scientists in the Emergent Photonics Lab (EPic Lab) at the University of Sussex have made a breakthrough to a crucial element of an atomic clock - devices...

Im Focus: Sensing shakes

A new way to sense earthquakes could help improve early warning systems

Every year earthquakes worldwide claim hundreds or even thousands of lives. Forewarning allows people to head for safety and a matter of seconds could spell...

Im Focus: A thermo-sensor for magnetic bits

New concept for energy-efficient data processing technology

Scientists of the Department of Physics at the University of Hamburg, Germany, detected the magnetic states of atoms on a surface using only heat. The...

Im Focus: The moiré patterns of three layers change the electronic properties of graphene

Combining an atomically thin graphene and a boron nitride layer at a slightly rotated angle changes their electrical properties. Physicists at the University of Basel have now shown for the first time the combination with a third layer can result in new material properties also in a three-layer sandwich of carbon and boron nitride. This significantly increases the number of potential synthetic materials, report the researchers in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Last year, researchers in the US caused a big stir when they showed that rotating two stacked graphene layers by a “magical” angle of 1.1 degrees turns...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International Modelica Conference with 330 visitors from 21 countries at OTH Regensburg

11.03.2019 | Event News

Selection Completed: 580 Young Scientists from 88 Countries at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

01.03.2019 | Event News

LightMAT 2019 – 3rd International Conference on Light Materials – Science and Technology

28.02.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers measure near-perfect performance in low-cost semiconductors

18.03.2019 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Nanocrystal 'factory' could revolutionize quantum dot manufacturing

18.03.2019 | Materials Sciences

Long-distance quantum information exchange -- success at the nanoscale

18.03.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>