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SMOKING AS A CONFOUNDER IN ECOLOGIC CORRELATIONS OF CANCER MORTALITY RATES WITH AVERAGE COUNTY RADON LEVELS

Puskin, J. S.

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Abstract— Cohen has reported a negative correlation between lung cancer mortality and average radon levels by county. In this paper, the correlation of U.S. county mortality rates for various types of cancers during the period 1970–1994 with Cohen’s radon measurements is examined. In general, quantitatively similar, strongly negative correlations are found for cancers strongly linked to cigarette smoking, weaker negative correlations are found for cancers moderately increased by smoking, whereas no such correlation is found for cancers not linked to smoking. The results indicate that the negative trend previously reported for lung cancer can be largely accounted for by a negative correlation between smoking and radon levels across counties. Hence, the observed ecological correlation provides no substantial evidence for a protective effect of low level radon exposure.

*Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, U.S. EPA, Washington, DC 20460.

Manuscript received 16 May 2002;

revised manuscript received 16 August 2002, accepted 27 November 2002)

For correspondence or reprints contact: the author at the above address, or email at puskin.jerome@epa.gov.

© 2003 by the Health Physics Society