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Reported Relationship Between Indoor Radon Concentrations and Unconventional Marcellus Shale Drilling Must Be Interpreted With Caution

Johns Hopkins researchers recently published a paper titled, “Predictors of Indoor Radon Concentrations in Pennsylvania, 1989-2013,” in Environmental Health Perspectives (available at:ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1409014/). The study reported the results of a mathematical analysis of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) data for radon in buildings, and, among other things, Marcellus Shale drilling and production data. The study posited that “development of unconventional natural gas in the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania has the potential to exacerbate several pathways for entry of radon into buildings,” including, 1) release of radon and radium in the drilling process to the ambient air (attributed to radon released from flow-back water and reserve pit soil), and 2) introduction of radon in natural gas used for cooking.

The study found a statistically significant association between a building’s proximity to unconventional natural gas wells drilled in the Marcellus Shale and first floor radon concentration measurements made during the summer. According to the study, this finding suggests support for an outdoor ambient air pathway. A common sense examination of the suggested pathways and ground-proofing with actual data, however, demonstrates the implausibility of a connection between natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale and first floor radon concentrations in buildings close to those wells.

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