Radiation, radioactivity, radon: these are words that, since Hiroshima, the Cold War, and Three Mile Island, have conjured fear and fascination for many Americans. The threat of nuclear war, however, was always abstract at best, and the possibility of a meltdown was seen primarily as a localized catastrophe. Yet the danger of radon--an invisible, odorless gas that could seemingly attack any home and afflict its residents with a deadly cancer--struck home in the 1980s when whole neighborhoods were deemed unsafe and homeowners were forced to relocate, often at great expense. But how much of a threat does radon really pose to Americans? Is the government's aggressive policy toward this "silent killer" warranted? Indeed, is there a legitimate threat at all? These are the important questions Leonard A. Cole asks in this provocative and fascinating new book, and his answers are ones that all homeowners will want to understand.
In clear, non-technical language, Cole dispels many of the myths surrounding radon as he makes recommendations for a coherent, reasonable environmental policy toward what is, certainly, a dangerous gas. But at what levels does radon become a health problem? From all the alarmist headlines ("Major Radon Peril Is Declared By U.S." screamed the New York Times in 1988), average Americans would never know that the threat of radon is much debated, among scientists as well as among government officials. They would never know that numerous European countries--with advanced environmental policies--see the radon levels found in homes and apartments as much less of a danger than we do. And they would never know that not even a single lung cancer death can be directly attributed to a radon-contaminated environment. As he carefully traces the development of the U.S.indoor radon policy, Cole illuminates the many scientific uncertainties that lie behind it, and challenges EPA's risk-cost assessment of radon levels. He shows, too, that no epidemiological study has confirmed that homeowners are at great risk, and exposes those who stand to gain from the policy decisions made in Washington. Since it is not caused by any industry, radon has been a politically convenient issue. Under the Reagan administration, for example, an aggressive radon policy proved an easy way to challenge the popular perception of an anti-environmental president. In the end, Cole convincingly argues for less strict radon regulations, and maintains that the average citizen must be involved in the decision-making process, and must be allowed to exercise her own informed judgment.
Thoughtful and timely, Element of Risk illuminates one of the most important public policy issues of our time. It is a book homeowners and taxpayers, scientists and policymakers, will find essential reading.
"Splendid....Cole is so deft in analyzing the science and politics of radon that it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry."--Nature
"In environmental science there is no real proof, only greater or lesser degress of certainty. Dr. Cole takes the view that people can heat the facts and make up their own minds, even in the face of equivocal information. Dr. Cole has taken on these large questions, and given us a good case study in the process. His voice is a welcome one."--Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY)
"Fascinating....The kind of book that should be passed around to friends and neighbors--anyone who is concerned about how we, as a society, deal with complex environmental issues....A breath of fresh air in this politically-contaminated radon atmosphere and deserves wide distribution."--Health Physics
"This calm, thoughtful book deserves a wide audience."--Publishers Weekly
"Cole offers a balanced perspective and perhaps one that is the "last word" on radon."--Library Journal
"[This] effort is certain to solidify Professor Cole's growing reputation as one of the nation's leading experts on the delicate interplay between science and society....Gripping....Fascinating.....Concrete recommendations."--EPA Watch
"Strongly recommended."--Science and Technology
"Cole's book provides a rich history of the emergence of radon onto the national agenda and public and private interests involved in policy outcomes. Cole's argument is persuasive, and the question of proper risk communication and the role of public discourse has wide applicability to many environmental pollutants."--Denise Scheberle, Politics and the Life Sciences
Preface; 1. The Development of Radon Policy; 2. The Science of Uncertainty; 3. Leapers and Loopers; 4. Lopers and Loppers; 5. Federal Regulators and Congress; 6. Radon in the States and the Case of New Jersey; 7. Private and Public Interests; 8. The Press, Science, and Radon; 9. Radon Policies in Other Countries: Sweden and Finland; 10. Democracy, Risk, and Reason; Appendix A: Radioactive Decay Chain of Uranium-238; Appendix B: Letters; Appendix C: The Environmental Protection Agency/Advertising Council Messages; Appendix D: Differing Perspectives on Radon Policy by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy; Appendix E: Radon Policies of the American Medical Association and the Health Physics Society; Index