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A survey of inhabitant exposures arising from the inhalation of 222Rn and 220Rn progeny, and lung cancer mortality has been carried out in two adjacent areas in Guangdong Province, People’s Republic of China, designated as the “high background” and the “control” area. Annual exposure rates are 0.38 working level months (WLM) per year in the high background, and 0.16 WLM/yr in the control area. In 14 yr of continuous study, from 1970 to 1983, age-adjusted mortality rates were found to be 2.7 per 105 living persons of all ages in the high background area, and 2.9 per 105 living persons in the control area. From this data, we conclude that we are unable to determine excess lung cancers over the normal fluctuations below a cumulative exposure of 15 WLM. This conclusion is supported by lung cancer mortality data from Austrian and Finnish high-background areas.
A theoretical analysis of epidemiological data on human lung cancer incidence from inhaled 222Rn and 220Rn progeny, which takes into account cell killing as competitive with malignant transformation, leads to the evaluation of a risk factor which is either a linear-exponential or a quadratic exponential function of the α-particle dose. Animal lung cancer data and theoretical considerations can be supplied to support either hypothesis. Thus we conclude that at our current stage of knowledge both the linear-exponential and the quadratic-exponential extrapolation to low doses seem to be equally acceptable for Rn-induced lung cancer risk, possibly suggesting a linear-quadratic transformation function with an exponential cell-killing term, or the influence of risk-modifying factors.