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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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RADON. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the Surgeon General's Office have estimated that as many as 20,000 lung cancer deaths are caused each year by radon. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon-induced lung cancer costs the United States over $2 billion dollars per year in both direct and indirect health care costs. (Based on National Cancer Institute statistics of 14,400 annual radon lung cancer deaths - Oster, Colditz & Kelley, 1984) (1)

In 1990, 110 households were part of a test of the presence of radon in Dubuque. The results showed that 60% of the homes had radon levels above acceptable levels. These levels would roughly be comparable to smoking a half pack of cigarettes daily. (2)

In 1990 it was found that Iowa had more homes at high levels of radon than any other part of the nation. Despite this, only 5% of the homeowners had tested for the gas. (3)

Radon is not produced as a commercial product. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas and comes from the natural breakdown (radioactive decay) of uranium. It is usually found in igneous rock and soil, but in some cases, well water may also be a source of radon. (4)

The primary routes of potential human exposure to radon are inhalation and ingestion. Radon in the ground, groundwater, or building materials enters working and living spaces and disintegrates into its decay products. Although high concentrations of radon in groundwater may contribute to radon exposure through ingestion, the inhalation of radon released from water is usually more important. (5)

In comparison with levels in outdoor air, humans in confined air spaces, particularly in underground work areas such as mines and buildings, are exposed to elevated concentrations of radon and its decay products. Exhalation of radon from ordinary rock and soils and from radon-rich water can cause significant radon concentrations in tunnels, power stations, caves, public baths, and spas. The average radon concentrations in houses are generally much lower than the average radon concentrations in underground ore mines. (6)

Testing is the only way to know a home's radon level. There are no immediate symptoms that will alert a resident to the presence of radon. It typically takes years of exposure before any problems occur. (7)



1. "Radon Fact Sheet," Radon.com. Online: http://www.radon.com/radon/radon_facts.html

2. Lamphler-Hoffert, Denise and Glindinning, Mary. "Health Official Urges Radon Tests," Telegraph Herald, February 13, 1992, p. 1.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.