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Online Laboratory Magazine
07/25/2021

11/03/2015

Scientifically founded information about the health risk due to radon

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About five per cent of all lung cancer deaths in Germany are a result of the natural radioactive noble gas radon - that are over 1,900 dead persons per year. After smoking, radon in dwellings is thus the second cause of lung cancer.

Radon can enter buildings and can accumulate in indoor air. That the flavourless and odourless gas is the strongest contributing factor to natural radiation exposure, was and still is known to a few people only. "When the perception of a problem is upstaged, it is more important for a specialist authority to reliably contribute with scientific findings to improving the protection of the citizens," the president of the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), Wolfram König, states during the presentation of the special edition of the annual report about 25 years of BfS.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, the BfS has compiled scientifically founded information about the health risk due to radon. In particular the internationally acclaimed long-term study on uranium miners is of special importance, the so-called "Wismut Study". The BfS also played a central role in the European study on the radon risk in dwellings.

The results from the study on the evaluation of the radon risk and also the BfS' collaboration in international institutions and bodies such as

  • The World Health Organization (WHO),
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and
  • The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP)
have been significant contributors to the fact that reference values for radon in dwellings are recommended today.

The new European Basic Safety Standards for radiation protection, which must be implemented into German law by February 2018, provides for a radon reference value in dwellings and at work places of maximum 300 becquerel per cubic metre of air. From a technical point of view, the BfS and the WHO are in favour of a value of 100 becquerel. Already from a concentration of 100 becquerel, an enhanced health risk is demonstrated statistically. The debate about an actual German reference level has not concluded yet.

How perception and scientific findings of a problem may fall apart.

"How perception and scientific findings of a problem may fall apart. This is an experience the Federal Office for Radiation Protection has gained in several topics and that has been running through the 25 years of its existence," Wolfram König says.

With regard to the socially prominently perceived topic of nuclear energy, König also campaigns for particular attentiveness: "We must ensure that the safety culture as a whole will not be neglected, even after 2022 when the last nuclear power plant will be shut down." The phase-out alone will not solve the safety issues of nuclear energy, König says.

The BfS was founded in 1989, among others as an answer to the crisis following the Chernobyl reactor catastrophe. Various experts whose opinions were in part contradictory resulted in uncertainties among citizens at that time. The objective of establishing the BfS was to combine expert knowledge and responsibilities in one authority in order to improve radiation protection in Germany.

"The central task of a scientific-technical authority remains to constantly question findings, to sway public opinion even when complex challenges are involved, and to collaborate actively in the further content-related and organisational development in order to guarantee the best possible protection for man and environment," König says.

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Source: Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz (BfS)