County-level radon exposure and all-cause mortality risk among Medicare beneficiaries

Maayan Yitshak-Sade, Annelise J. Blomberg, Antonella Zanobetti, Joel D. Schwartz, Brent A. Coull, Itai Kloog, Francesca Dominici, Petros Koutrakis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Radon is an inert gas formed from the decay of naturally-occurring materials in the earth's crust. It infiltrates into homes from soil, water, and construction materials. Its decay products are radionuclides, which attach to ambient particles. Residential radon is one of the leading risk factors for lung cancer. The scarce evidence for associations with other mortality causes originates mostly from occupational studies. Methods: In a cohort study with 14 years of follow-up (2000−2013), we evaluated the association between chronic radon exposure and all-cause mortality, and explored whether there are subpopulations who are more vulnerable to radon effects. We included 87,296,195 person-years of follow-up from all Medicare beneficiaries in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S. states. We examined the association between the logarithm of county-averaged radon (ln(Rn)) and mortality and assessed effect modification by chronic conditions. Results: An interquartile range increase in the ln(Rn) was associated with a 2·62% increase (95% CI 2·52%; 2·73%) in mortality, independent of PM2.5 exposure. Larger mortality risks were observed among individuals with respiratory, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, with the highest associations observed among those with diabetes (4·98% increase), heart failure (4·58% increase), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (4·49% increase). Conclusion: We found an increased risk for all-cause mortality associated with increased radon exposure. The risk was enhanced among susceptible individuals with chronic conditions. We believe this is the first cohort study to identify populations at higher risk for non-malignant health consequences of radon exposure. Due to the limitations in exposure assessment and availability of individual confounders, these findings should be interpreted with caution.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number104865
JournalEnvironment international
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2019


  • Mortality
  • PM
  • Radiation
  • Radon

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science


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