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Tuesday, May 19, 1998 Published at 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK


Thousands of cancer deaths pinned on natural gas
image: [ Thousands could die from invisible gas ]
Thousands could die from invisible gas

Radon, a naturally occurring gas, causes one in 20 deaths from lung cancer in the UK.

That is according to the first comprehensive study of its health risk.

Kate Williams hears radon concerns in Northamptonshire
Researchers from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund have found that 1,800 of the 37,000 a year deaths from lung cancer in the UK are directly linked to radon.

They also found that people in areas with high radon pollution were more susceptible to lung cancer if they smoke since radon appears to interact with tobacco.

The researchers say there would be just 200 deaths a year from radon pollution if no-one smoked.

Former mining areas at risk

Radon, a colourless, odourless gas, is linked to the most common uranium isotope and is found in high levels in granite rock areas.

[ image: The study looked at 1000 cancer patients]
The study looked at 1000 cancer patients
The risk of radon poisoning is highest in areas such as Devon and Cornwall, Somerset, Derbyshire and Northamptonshire.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, looked at 982 lung cancer patients in Devon and Cornwall and compared them with 3,185 people who did not have the disease.

Radon levels in their homes were measured and the data was adjusted for age, sex and smoking habits.

'Illegal' radiation levels

Professor Sarah Darby, one of the researchers, said: "Some individuals are certainly receiving doses of radon which would be unacceptable and illegal if they were workers in the nuclear industry."

[ image: A simple test can establish the radon concentration in a home]
A simple test can establish the radon concentration in a home
The government is seeking to identify homes with high radon levels so that they can be adapted to reduce their health risk.

This involves installing a system to pump radon out and sealing the building to stop the gas seeping in.

Home owners whose houses have a radon level of over 200 becquerels per cubic metre can apply for local authority grants of up to £1,000 to adapt their homes.

The average home has a safe radon level of around 20 becquerels per cubic metre.

The National Radiological Protection Board has produced a map showing the worst affected radon areas in England.

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