Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers say that levels of radon in Pennsylvania homes – where 42 percent of readings surpass what the U.S. government considers safe – have been on the rise since 2004, around the time that the fracking industry began drilling natural gas wells in the state.
The researchers, publishing online April 9 in Environmental Health Perspectives, also found that buildings located in the counties where natural gas is most actively being extracted out of Marcellus shale have in the past decade seen significantly higher readings of radon compared with buildings in low-activity areas. There were no such county differences prior to 2004. Radon, an odorless radioactive gas, is considered the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the world after smoking.
“One plausible explanation for elevated radon levels in people’s homes is the development of thousands of unconventional natural gas wells in Pennsylvania over the past 10 years,” says study leader Dr. Brian S. Schwartz, a professor in the department of environmental health sciences at the Bloomberg School. “These findings worry us.”
The study, conducted with Pennsylvania’s Geisinger Health System, analyzed more than 860,000 indoor radon measurements included in a Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection database from 1989 to 2013. Radon levels are often assessed when property is being bought or sold; much of the study data came from such measurements. The researchers evaluated associations of radon concentrations with geology, water source, season, weather, community type, and other factors.
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