Claim: Fracking will increase radon down wind

Evaluation of Nature Communications article “Unconventional oil and gas development and ambient particle radioactivity”

Guest post by Warren Kindzierski and Stanley Young

Li L, Blomberg AJ, Spengler JD, Coull BA, Schwartz JD, Koutrakis P. 2020. Unconventional oil and gas development and ambient particle radioactivity Nature Communications. (published 13 October 2020).

The published article is referred to as “Li”. Their abstract is provided in our Appendix at the end. The article and peer review files are freely available for download from Nature Communications [1]. Here we evaluate two aspects of their study – potential for p-hacking and reliability of the research claim.

Summary of our evaluation

A paper out of the Harvard School of Public Health makes the claim that “Unconventional oil and natural gas development” will increase “ambient particle radioactivity” down wind. More simply, fracking will increase radon down wind. They are wrong on two counts: First, they find the increase in radon by trying multiple models until they get a publishable result, multiple testing and multiple modeling or MTMM, aka p-hacking. Second, any increase in radon is very small and higher levels of radon are actually beneficial to humans, e.g., decreases in lung cancer.

Estimated annual effective doses for radon and its decay products for three fracking potential exposure scenarios that we evaluated were less than 1.4 mSv. These trivial doses are unimportant to public health. Li excluded consideration of background radiation exposures and radiation hormesis evidence. Their analysis, in fact, supports the safety of additional fracking activity to the downwind public.

Potential for p-hacking

This was an exploratory study presented as a definitive study. Multiple statistical models were built and multiple statistics tests were conducted by Li to explore correlations between daily upwind fracking well counts and daily downwind airborne gross-beta radiation (particle radioactivity) levels. The particle radioactivity data were obtained from the US EPA [2]. Daily well counts, fracking and conventional, were from another data source – based on oil & gas well position and production data from a third party [3].

A number of statistical models were used to explore the dependency between the daily number of upwind wells within seven circular sectional buffer radii around clusters of fracking wells (the main predictor of interest) and downwind daily particle radioactivity levels (outcome of interest).

Several variables were included as fixed predictors of daily downwind particle radioactivity level in their models:

– ground surface concentration of U-238 (to account for the emanation rate of radon from soil)

– origin of air masses from the ocean (to account for ocean emanation of particle radioactivity)

– number of sunspots (indicator of strength of solar activity to account for beta emitting cosmogenic radionuclides originating from the upper atmosphere)

– scavenging (to account for depletion aerosols on the short-lived progeny of radon)

– five environmental factors that may influence downwind transport of particle radioactivity (wind velocity, relative humidity, planetary boundary layer height, temperature and soil moisture content)

Several other variables could be adjusted (i.e., to be in or out of their models):

– a term for the influence of conventional wells

– a monitor-specific random intercept term

– a term for long-term temporal trend (based on the calendar year)

– a seasonality term (based on temperature)

– a latitude-dependent term

Interpretation of “significance” of an individual result by Li was based on confidence intervals (CIs) instead of p-values. In this situation, if the 95 percent confidence intervals around an observed estimate includes the no-effect value of 0, then the estimate is not statistically significant (i.e., a significance test for that estimate will have a p-value >.05). Note that confidence intervals are mathematically interchangeable with p-values.

Using procedures developed by one of us (Young) and described elsewhere [4−6], we estimated the analysis search space of their study. Analysis search space represents the number of statistical tests they did or could conduct on their data set. For their main analysis plus three sub-regional analysis combined, we estimate they performed more than 40,000 statistical tests in the study.

What is happening here is that multiple tests and multiple models (MTMM) were used on the same data set to identify the most dramatic statistical results. Multiple testing involves statistical testing of many predictor variables against dependent variables and multiple modeling involves using multiple model selection procedures or different model forms [4−7].

Why should we care about MTMM? Well, MTMM offer researchers hidden flexibility to perform many statistical tests, search through their results and then select and report only the most dramatic results – those that are statistically significant. However, false-positive findings can arise when statistical methods are applied incorrectly or when p-values (or confidence intervals) are interpreted without sufficient attention to the multiple testing problem [8].

For any given set of multiple hypothesis tests on the same data set, 1−in−20 (or 5%) could be statistically significant even when the null hypothesis is true based on the Neyman-Pearson theory of hypothesis testing [9,10]. With more than 40,000 statistical tests in their study, there could be more than 2,000 false-positive (chance) results.

The practice of reanalyzing data in many ways to yield a target result is referred to as p-hacking [11]. Given evidence of MTMM and without knowing if any statistical corrections were made for MTMM, p-hacking cannot be ruled out as an explanation for results they presented. Experience with these researchers and their lab is that they never adjust their analyses for MTMM.

Reliability of the research claim

Three claims are made in the Li study (we highlight hedging words):

1 “…widespread UOGD [fracking] could induce adverse health effects to residents living close to UOGD by elevating PR [radon]” in their Abstract

2 “Our analysis demonstrates that upwind UOGD activities could significantly elevate the PR level in downwind communities…” in their Discussion

3 “…it is possible that the widespread of UOGD could induce adverse health effects to residents in proximity by elevating the PR” in their Discussion

Are these claims supported? We did a conservative dose−response assessment to answer this question. This involved predicting effective doses from potential exposure to radon and its decay products (short-lived progeny) plus particle radioactivity. We compared our results for three hypothetical public exposure scenarios to literature values of background radiation and to biological dose−response values.

The three exposure scenarios included:

i) background – living in an area with no fracking wells

ii) current – living within 20 km of a typical cluster of fracking wells

iii) future – living within 20 km of a typical cluster of fracking wells with an additional 100 wells

Effective dose is a quantity used by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (Brussels, Belgium). Effective dose is a mathematical surrogate of risk. It is used in radiation protection as the basis for estimating annual radiation limits to workers and the public from exposure to radiation and intakes of radionuclides [12].

Our procedures and results for the three exposure scenarios are described in the Appendix. We found that estimated annual effective doses for all three scenarios were essentially the same – less than 1.4 mSv. For comparison, the annual average effective dose from natural background radiation exposure in United States is around 3 mSv [13]. The average American receives another 3 mSv of radiation exposure annually due to medical diagnostic imaging [14].

At the cellular level, the rate of DNA damage caused by natural background radiation and medical diagnostic imaging (6 mSv annually) is extremely small compared to DNA damage caused by breathing oxygen (~500 g O2 daily for the average male adult) [15]. At annual doses much higher than 6 mSv, radio-adaptive – hormetic – responses are associated with stimulation of mechanisms that are protective of (mostly O2‑related) biological damage, including cancer.

Two books by Charles Saunders [15,16] provide extensive evidence summarizing beneficial human cellular stimulatory effects following radiation doses in the range 1–500 mSv. Examples include:

– reduction in inflammatory conditions (e.g., effective in treatment and control of arthritis)

– acceleration of wound healing and infection control

– enhanced immune function

– increase in life expectancy

– reverse of aging

– protection against chromosome aberration formation from a following high dose

– protection against mutations from a high-radiation dose given either before or after a high dose

– decrease of precancerous (transformed) cells

– suppression of induced and spontaneous cancers

– decrease of metastatic cancer

– decrease of prevalence of many noncancer diseases

Saunders is saying doses up to 500 mSv are biologically beneficial and Li is trying to paint a scary picture.

Research of Edward Calabrese, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and many others is prominently featured in these books. Saunders further reports there is no evidence of radiation-induced cancer and other effects in humans at doses less than 500 mSv for protracted periods [15,16]. A fitting example is in Ramsar, Iran, where many people receive high doses of background radiation from radon – up to 260 mSv/year – and many individuals have lived in these conditions for generations [17].

Estimated annual effective doses of radon and its decay products for all three potential exposure scenarios – less than 1.4 mSv – are trivial and unimportant to public health. This does not support their claims. Rather, their predicted increase of particle radioactivity downwind for every additional 100 upwind fracking wells within 20 km supports the safety of additional fracking activity to the downwind public!

Google Scholar ( provides a way to broadly search scholarly literature online – e.g., articles, theses, books, abstracts, citations, court opinions – on a topic. A Google Scholar search of the terms ‘hormesis’ and ‘radiation’ for the period 1990 to current returned over 18,000 results (done 24 October 2020). Yet Li did not mention radiation hormesis once in their study. This is despite the thousands of online literature sources describing beneficial cellular stimulatory effects of low-level radiation doses.

When it comes to evaluating research claims about potential negative health effects from environmental releases, we find that too many academics (purposely?) guide their research to produce evidence and make interpretations that support a pre-determined point-of-view. In this case… that environmental releases from fracking are harmful to public health. More unfortunate is that science and medical journals readily publish these research claims, and they reject opposing research evidence. This publication bias leads to false beliefs (canonization) of these claims in the literature [4−6] which fail when scrutinized more closely [4−6,18−20].

Warren Kindzierski is an Adjunct Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta. Stanley Young is with CGStat in Raleigh, North Carolina and is the Director of the National Association of Scholars’ Shifting Sands Project.



[2] RadNet. US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, Radiation Protection Division, Washington, DC (

[3] Enversus. Austin, TX (

[4] Young SS, Kindzierski, WB. 2019. Evaluation of a meta-analysis of air quality and heart attacks, a case study. Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 49(1), 85−94.

[5] Kindzierski WB, Young SS, Meyer TM, Dunn JD. 2020. Evaluation of a meta-analysis of ambient air quality as a risk factor for asthma exacerbation.

[6] Young SS, Cheng K-C, Chen JH, Chen S-C, Kindzierski WB. 2020. Reliability of meta-analysis of an association between ambient air quality and development of asthma later in life.

[7] Peace KE, Yin J-J, Rochani H, Pandeya S, Young SS. 2017. The reliability of a nutritional meta-analysis study.

[8] Forstmeier W, Wagenmakers EJ, Parker TH. 2017. Detecting and avoiding likely false-positive findings – a practical guide. Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 92(4), 1941−1968.

[9] Hung HMJ, O’Neill RT, Bauer P, Kohne K. 1997. The behavior of the p-value when the alternative hypothesis is true. Biometrics, 53, 11–22. doi:10.2307/2533093.

[10] Lew MJ. 2020. A reckless guide to p-values. In: Good Research Practice in Non-Clinical Pharmacology and Biomedicine (Ed: Bespalov A, Michel MC, Steckler T). Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology, Vol. 257. New York, NY: Springer. pp 223−256.

[11] Insel T, 2014. Post by Former NIMH Director Thomas Insel: P-Hacking. US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Bethesda, MD.

[12] Fisher DR, Fahey FH. 2017. Appropriate use of effective dose in radiation protection and risk assessment. Health Physics, 113(2), 102−109.

[13] Brenner DJ, Doll R, Goodhead DT, Hall EJ, Land CE, Little JB, et al. 2003. Cancer risks attributable to low doses of ionizing radiation: assessing what we really know. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(24), 13761−13766.

[14] Larson AN, Schueler BA, Dubousset J. 2019. Radiation in spine deformity: State-of-the-art reviews. Spine Deformity, 7, 386−394.

[15] Sanders CL. 2010. Radiation Hormesis and the Linear-no-threshold Assumption. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer. 217 pp.

[16] Sanders CL. 2017. Radiobiology and Radiation Hormesis: New Evidence and its Implications for Medicine and Society. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. 273 pp.

[17] Ghiassi-nejad M, Mortazavi SMJ, Cameron JR, Niroomand-rad A, Karam PA. 2002. Very high background radiation areas of Ramsar, Iran: Preliminary biological studies. Health Physics, 82, 87–93.,.11.aspx

[18] Wood P. 2019. Introducing Stanley Young, Director of the Shifting Sands Project. National Association of Scholars, New York, NY.

[19] Kindzierski W. 2017. They keep saying shutting down coal will make us healthier, so how come there’s no evidence of it? Financial Post Newspaper, Feb 24, 2017.

[20] Kindzierski W. 2019. It turns out the air in Sarnia isn’t killing you after all. Financial Post Newspaper, June 19, 2019.


Li Abstract

“Unconventional oil and natural gas development (UOGD) expanded extensively in the United States from the early 2000s. However, the influence of UOGD on the radioactivity of ambient particulate is not well understood. We collected the ambient particle radioactivity (PR) measurements of RadNet, a nationwide environmental radiation monitoring network. We obtained the information of over 1.5 million wells from the Enverus database. We investigated the association between the upwind UOGD well count and the downwind gross-beta radiation with adjustment for environmental factors governing the natural emission and transport of radioactivity. Our statistical analysis found that an additional 100 upwind UOGD wells within 20 km is associated with an increase of 0.024 mBq/m3 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.020, 0.028 mBq/m3) in the gross-beta particle radiation downwind. Based on the published health analysis of PR, the widespread UOGD could induce adverse health effects to residents living close to UOGD by elevating PR.”

Dose−response assessment for three public exposure scenarios

We used the conservative method of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) to estimate annual effective inhalation doses of radon & short-lived progeny:1

ED = (Ci)(DC)(EFi)(OFi)(24 h/d)(365 d)      (Eqn 1)

ED = annual effective inhalation dose of radon and short-lived progeny (Sv)

Ci = daily averaged level (Bq/m3), where the ‘i’ refers to indoors or outdoors

DC = dose coefficient = 9(10−9) (Sv per (Bq h/m3))

EFi = equilibrium factor (unitless, 0.4 for indoors; 0.6 for outdoors)

OFi = occupancy factor (unitless, 0.8 for indoors; 0.2 for outdoors)

i) Living in an area with no fracking wells (background)

Li indicated that particle-bound progeny of Radon-222 contribute to the majority of ambient particle radioactivity measurements that their analysis is based on. We considered four types of sources for this scenario – background indoor and outdoor radon & short-lived progeny, and background indoor and outdoor particle radioactivity.

The population−averaged radon concentration in United States is estimated to be 46 Bq/m3 indoors2,3 and 15 Bq/m3 outdoors4. Li indicated the national average particle radioactivity level (taken as particle radioactivity background) was 0.35 mBq/m3 (0.00035 Bq/m3). Since particle radioactivity originates outdoors, we assumed Cin = Cout for this this source for simplicity.

Using Eqn 1, the following annual effective doses in mSv were estimated for this scenario:

– indoor background radon & short-lived progeny = 1.16

– outdoor background radon & short-lived progeny = 0.14

– indoor background particle radioactivity = <0.0001

– outdoor background particle radioactivity = <0.0001

Total annual effective dose = 1.30 Sv

ii) Living within 20 km of a typical cluster of fracking wells (current)

Li indicated the average particle radioactivity level at oil and gas sites was 0.39 mBq/m3 (0.00039 Bq/m3). This was taken as the particle radioactivity level for this scenario. We considered four types of sources here – background indoor and outdoor radon & short-lived progeny, and indoor and outdoor particle radioactivity within 20 km of a typical cluster of fracking wells. Again, we assumed Cin = Cout for particle radioactivity.

Using Eqn 1, the following annual effective doses in mSV were estimated for this scenario:

– indoor background radon & short-lived progeny = 1.16

– outdoor background outdoors radon & short-lived progeny = 0.14

– indoor particle radioactivity = <0.0001

– outdoor particle radioactivity = <0.0001

Total annual effective dose = 1.30 Sv

iii) Living within 20 km of a typical cluster of fracking wells with an additional 100 wells (future)

Li predicted 100 additional upwind fracking wells within 20 km was associated with an increase of 0.024 mBq/m3 (0.000024 Bq/m3) particle radioactivity downwind. We considered four types of sources here – background indoor and outdoor radon & short-lived progeny, and indoor and outdoor particle radioactivity within 20 km of a typical cluster of fracking wells with an additional 100 wells. Again, we assumed Cin = Cout for particle radioactivity, where Cin = Cout = 0.00039 + 0.000024 = 0.000414 Bq/m3.

Using Eqn 1, the following annual effective doses in mSv were estimated for this scenario:

– indoor background radon & short-lived progeny = 1.16

– outdoor background outdoors radon & short-lived progeny = 0.14

– indoor particle radioactivity = <0.0001

– outdoor particle radioactivity = <0.0001

Total annual effective dose = 1.30 Sv

Appendix references

1    United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). 2016. Sources, Effects and Risk of Ionizing Radiation, Annex A, Methodology for Estimating Public Exposures due to Radioactive Discharges.

2    Nero AV, Schwehr M, Nazaroff W, Revzan K. 1986. Distribution of airborne radon-222 concentrations in U.S. homes. Science, 134, 992−997.

3    Marcinowski F, Lucas RM, Yeager WM. 1994. National and regional distributions of airborne radon concentrations in U.S. homes. Health Physics, 66, 699−706.

4    Hopper RD, Levy RA, Rankin RC, Boyd MA. 1991. National ambient radon study. In: Proceedings of the 1991 International Symposium on Radon and Radon Reduction Technology, 2-5 April 1991, Philadelphia, PA. US Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, NC.

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Joe Wagner
November 2, 2020 6:12 am

I see studies like this and wonder.. “Why didn’t they just go collect samples themselves”, but realize (cynically) that you don’t get research grants for proving things aren’t so bad.

Curious George
Reply to  Joe Wagner
November 2, 2020 7:22 am

Harvard is a home of Professor Naomi Oreskes. That means only models. Model results should not be contaminated by real data.

Michael Jankowski
Reply to  Curious George
November 2, 2020 9:32 am

How do you associate Oreskes with models?

Reply to  Michael Jankowski
November 2, 2020 9:36 am


Phil R
Reply to  bigoilbob
November 2, 2020 11:50 am

c’mon b-o-b,

That has to be at least a 42×10^42!

(wish I knew how to do superscripts).

Reply to  bigoilbob
November 2, 2020 1:11 pm

42 x 10⁴²

Curious George
Reply to  Michael Jankowski
November 2, 2020 11:44 am

Naomi Oreskes et al, Verification, Validation and Confirmation of Numerical Models in the Earth Sciences, Science, New Series, Vol 263, Issue 5147 (Feb 4, 1994), pp. 641-646.

November 2, 2020 6:32 am

WAY down on my list. NORM. Haz waste disposal, with it’s concomitant earthquake swarms. Aquifer inoculation. The construction/operation of tens of thousands of hydraulically incompetent spaghetti laterals, nearly impossible to properly plug. Fug methane emissions, from drilling, on. Resource waste, from wink wink “temporary” flare permits. Rail trans of charcoal lighter fluid grade liquids in snuff box tin rail cars. WAY down.

AGW not so much, as the oil and gas produced largely replaces fuels that produce more forcing/unit of energy that we can use.

And a teapot tempest in any case. Fraccing is a hot house flower, that will not bloom again for over a decade. I.e., until the lower OPEX and CAPEX/boe mideast and FSU oil is produced off.

If you want to help domestic fraccing, pass a data based carbon tax that returns equitably to every American, every month, with NO tobacco tax style honey potting. And let our Partners in Peace pay for the military/security costs of their hydrocarbon production/transportation, by bringing the 5th fleet home from Bahrain. Every little ~$50B/year helps…

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  bigoilbob
November 2, 2020 8:52 am

Why worry about “carbon” at all?

November 2, 2020 6:34 am

If it is “down wind”, won’t it keep on blowing and dispersing?

Reply to  bluecat57
November 2, 2020 7:26 am

Yes. Wind is very rarely a laminar-flow event. 2 meters downwind this may be a thing, but after that the wind will disperse these tiny doses to even tinier, unmeasurable doses. Wow, Harvard does it again…

Roger Caiazza
November 2, 2020 6:39 am

” five environmental factors that may influence downwind transport of particle radioactivity (wind velocity, relative humidity, planetary boundary layer height, temperature and soil moisture content)” The biggest factor is wind direction. It is not that big a deal to model the transport and diffusion of emissions from upwind sources but my guess is that it would give lower numbers so Li did not go there.

Reply to  Roger Caiazza
November 2, 2020 7:07 pm

More likely strength. Above a certain speed, the airflow stops being laminar and becomes turbulent. That means that it mixes more with the air around and above it. The result will be a much lower concentration of radon & consequently less impact on humans.

Mike McHenry
November 2, 2020 6:52 am

Radon in well water is very common in some area’s. A common solution is aeration! Just another junk paper.

old oilfield worker
Reply to  Mike McHenry
November 2, 2020 8:28 am

I am at present in my mid 80’s I worked most of my life in the oilpatch, without “fracking ” very little oil would with out fracking reach the surface. You drill a hole and the oil nearby comes to the surface, days perhaps weeks latter oil only seeps into the hole and arrives (if there is still pressure ) to the surface, But when the hole is fracked (a special explosive that channels into the oil bearing rock disturbing the formation for a large area around ) you have a producer , this happens some many thousand of meters ( feet ) below the surface were there is no water ( remember oil floats on water )

Reply to  old oilfield worker
November 2, 2020 9:07 am

“But when the hole is fracked (a special explosive that channels into the oil bearing rock disturbing the formation for a large area around )”

No actual oilfield worker thinks that this is how fracking works. Now there IS a subpopulation of oilfield “workers” who got in from Uncle Fred, were subsequently found to be both worthless and fire proof, and so then got sent to the Safety Department.

Gettin’ warm…?

Mark in Montana
Reply to  old oilfield worker
November 2, 2020 12:15 pm

old oilfield worker
“But when the hole is fracked (a special explosive that channels into the oil bearing rock disturbing the formation for a large area around ) you have a producer , ”

Are you talking about shaped charge perforations? The fracking in this discussion is all hydraulic fracking. Very different process. Just trying to understand.

39 years making holes in the ground for me. 10 of those with Halliburton.

Reply to  Mike McHenry
November 2, 2020 1:00 pm

No it’s not.
We have the same problems.
It’s not Radon the problem it’s radium, thorium and uran-daughters.
It’s in practice impossible to remove the radionucleides from the water without creating yet another source of major pollution from filtration.

It’s all been tried. duh! It’s called mitigation strategies.

We live in one of the most radioactive places in Europe.
They local soviet era factory make (radioactive) bricks and ceramic tiles out of the clay, – don’t really give a damn, and install it in new buildings, just as they always have.
Guess what the primary cause of mortality is in the factory?
Lung cancer.

Active elements in the environment are not beneficial at all, neither is flying polar regions at 34000 feet.(higher incidence reported of breast cancer among cabin crews thanks to spallation and secondary radiation isotopes from outer space).

Better to have done a little radiation work in life than talk twaddle.
Lots of my Dad’s friends worked at MRC UK, (and Harwell)which is how I know.

Ron Long
November 2, 2020 6:58 am

I can personally support the analysis of this fracking radon nonsense, in the presentation of Kindzierski and Young. When I became President and Director of a uranium exploration company I went to the IAEA Redbook meeting in Vienna, Austria. My objective was twofold, to learn tricks of uranium exploration and development and to develop a safety program. After consulting with many radiation safety experts we developed our modern radiation safety program, and published it on our website. This program has parts for workers, neighbors, and politicians. Our modern discriminatory scintillometers were utilized to search for radon accumulations in old mine workings, neighbors houses (found one gassy house), and basements where uranium mineralized clays were utilized to fire ceramics and bricks. Uranium and thorium and associated daughter products commonly move with petroleum migration and can end up in the same trap. Fracking has some potential to liberate some radon gas, but the amount of the discharge, and the physical setting of the discharge, makes any concentration of any level o fhealth hazard impossible. I stood in the air emenating from an old uranium mine on the Colorado Plateau, known to be a gassy mine, and could detect radon, but backing up 20 feet eliminated the concentration necessary for detection. End of problem from a concentrated source of radon in 20 feet. Good report of pseudo-scientific misconduct by Kindzerski and Young, and I am especially encouraged to see them mention hormesis.

Reply to  Ron Long
November 2, 2020 8:18 am

Sorry, I can’t restrain my inner pedant.

Good report of pseudo-scientific misconduct by Kindzerski and Young …

As written, that actually means that Kindzerski and Young perpetrated the pseudo-scientific misconduct. From context it’s obvious that you meant that Kindzerski and Young wrote a good report on Li’s pseudo-scientific misconduct.

Scholars are in a miserable position. They must publish. To publish, they must produce interesting results. There is no punishment for being wrong. Unsurprisingly, the result is that most published research findings are wrong. It is not an exaggeration to say that, in the pursuit of interesting findings, pseudo-scientific misconduct is rampant.

Many years ago I heard a radio interview with a former tabloid writer. The only thing I remember is the advice given to him by his editor: “Don’t fact-check yourself out of a good story.” Sadly, that also seems to be ‘good’ advice for scientists these days.

Reply to  Ron Long
November 2, 2020 9:07 am

When more sensitive equipment is available and employed, it tends to result in hand wringing over inconsequential levels.

November 2, 2020 7:00 am

Don’t measure. Model!

Reply to  Speed
November 2, 2020 9:56 am

Model. Infer. Extrapolate to global… universal proportions, one billions years backward, one thousand years forward. Ignore assumptions/assertions exploited to establish an extra-scientific frame of reference.

November 2, 2020 7:20 am

Radon levels in the immediate vicinity go up when the surface is disturbed and overburden pressure is reduced, if radon is a constituent of the subsoil. Which it generally is, due to radioactive decay of uranium and thorium within the planet. This continuous decay causes a background radon emission of which nothing can be done, but it can build up to unhealthy levels in poorly ventilated basements for example.
The excavation for a convenience store parking lot would release more radon than a frac pad.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  DMacKenzie
November 2, 2020 11:40 am

Plus, at least in Virginia and Maryland, homes with basements are generally equipped with radon removal ducts, which vent into the outside air. Homes without them (built before the code section was written) are subject to radon testing before they are sold, and the seller must install a vent system if the radon concentration in the basement exceeds a certain value.

The uranium content of Virginia and Maryland soil is quite high – Virginia, in fact, is home to the largest uranium deposit in the United States. That’s the source of radon. The governments of these states, as well as the federal EPA, don’t seem to worry about venting it into the open air. This study seems like a cynical scare tactic.
November 2, 2020 7:25 am

“higher levels of radon are actually beneficial to humans, e.g., decreases in lung cancer”


Tom in Florida
Reply to
November 2, 2020 9:05 am

The EPA has relied on LNT model which is hogwash. And your link is about radon in homes.
In addition, hormesis is a known fact.

Ron Long
Reply to  Tom in Florida
November 2, 2020 9:28 am

Tom in Florida (where I hope to be as soon as the quarantine in Argentina is lifted) you are correct about using LNT models. LNT means Linear-No Threshold. The government, for a variety of real or imagined risk factors, calculates how many deaths occur with, say finger nail polish applied every 4 hours, then extrapolates down to how many deaths occur in application every month, draw a straight line, and get a tremendous number of deaths due to finger nail application (the risk is exceedingly miniscule at applying every month, but the persons affected is very large-works every time). Hormesis for me!

Reply to  Tom in Florida
November 2, 2020 10:59 am

Radon is a heavy gas, that stays in the lungs, especially smokers lungs, and decayes to radioactive polonium and then lead.
Its not the radioactivity that kills, …

Tom in Florida
Reply to  Leo Smith
November 2, 2020 1:43 pm

It is the SLRDs that attach to dust particles that are then breathed in.

Ron Long
Reply to  Leo Smith
November 2, 2020 5:22 pm

Radon, mass 222, decays by a series of alpha and beta emissions, through polonium, to bismuth to lead ,mass 204. The damage is due to the high energy alpha particles. Normally paper stops alpha particles, but in the lungs, trapped by asphalt-like residue from smoking, the alpha particles slam into tissue at high energies and cause celluar mutation, possibly leading to cancer. I have seen persons take in a deep breath in a radon gassy mine, walk a few meters outside, and breath out onto the selenium crystal of a scintillometer, causing a strong radiation anomaly.

Richard Brimage
Reply to
November 2, 2020 9:37 am

The danger is in the dose. The LNT theory has been debunked even for radon. Low dose rado reduces the likelihood of cancer. This is known as the hormesis effect.

Reply to
November 3, 2020 4:25 am

I agree. Comment “higher levels of radon are actually beneficial to humans, e.g., decreases in lung cancer” sounds like cigarette companies saying cigarettes are healthy. People in Denver spend a lot of money ventilating basements to reduce radon levels, and they don’t do it to be less healthy.

November 2, 2020 7:31 am

I thought radon was an issue for enclosed spaces like homes sitting on top of a radon-bearing/emitting granite.

Mike McHenry
November 2, 2020 7:32 am

Just thought of another common source of residential radon. In north western New Jersey, USA where we live radon build up in basements is a common problem. The simple solution is to vent to the outside air.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Mike McHenry
November 2, 2020 10:35 am

Black shale bedrock?

Mike McHenry
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
November 3, 2020 6:37 am

Gneisses- the formation is called the Reading Prong

Gregory Wrightstone
November 2, 2020 7:47 am

There ARE dangerously high levels of radon found in certain areas of Pennsylvania. Those areas are nowhere near where natural gas is found and produced. The Triassic Basins of southeast PA like the Gettysburg Basin were the remnants of a failed Triassic rift and igneous and metamorphic rocks are found at and near the surface, emitting radon.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Gregory Wrightstone
November 2, 2020 9:26 am

“failed Triassic rift”

Huh? Was it trying to do something specific, and failed? Makes no sense.

November 2, 2020 8:15 am

Radon Gas!
It is not widely known that radon gas in the basement of Fort Knox has turned all the gold into lead.
So, there is some 8500 tons of gold reserves “not there”.
As the story gets out, gold prices will fly.
And as we used to say on the old and highly promotional Vancouver Stock Exchange:
“Remember where you heard it.”
It will soon be time to stake that old property in Nevada.
The one with so many holes drilled in it that when the wind blows the right way—it whistles.

Bruce Cobb
November 2, 2020 8:20 am

Yes, and it also causes groundwater pollution, earthquakes, and flames shooting out of your faucets. Science.

Joel O'Bryan
November 2, 2020 8:33 am

This kind of intellectual dishonesty about oil and gas is rampant with Libtard academics. They love telling half-truths to bolster their beliefs, and cherry picking and p-hacking are forms of half-truth telling.

Another example:
In Texas today there is this ignorant Libtard running for a seat on the Texas RailRoad commission against the incumbent Republican. The Texas Rail Road Commission regulates the oil and gas industry and all drilling activities in the State. So this Libtard is running a dishonest ad where here campaign is using “study” that showed premature births are statistically higher around areas oil and gas fields where gas flaring is occurring.

While that is probably true (there are higher rates of premature birth than the general population for pregnant women living near well flaring), the study fails to control for the reality that lower socio-economic status, regardless of proximity to gas flaring, is strongly associated with higher rates of premature births. And living within a few miles of natural gas flaring is associated with lower socio-economic status. So the higher rates of premature births is far more likely an indicator of scoio-economic status than proximity to well gas flaring. So this Libtard running for Texas RailRoad Commission so she can do Steyer’s and Bloomberg’s bidding on trying to throttle Texas oil and gas production, and using a half-truth to scare people about well gas flaring.

No Name Guy
November 2, 2020 8:42 am

Why measure when you can model? Don’t let facts and data get in the way of a good scare story.

Typical of what passes for “science” these days.

Rich Lambert
November 2, 2020 8:57 am

It is my understanding that returns from fracking a well are captured and injected underground in a disposal well. Where I used to live every well drilled was connect by three pipelines, one for oil, one for gas, and one for produced water which was piped to a disposal well. Additionally, drilling fluids were captured and disposed, not left at the drill site. Thus, I don’t see how much if any radiation will be produced by fracking and drilling.

Rich Lambert
November 2, 2020 9:05 am

It is my understanding that returns from fracking a well are captured and injected underground in a disposal well. They are most certainly not left at the well site. Where I used to live every well drilled was connect by three pipelines, one for oil, one for gas, and one for produced water which was piped to a disposal well. Additionally, drilling fluids were captured and disposed, not left at the drill site. Thus, I don’t see how much if any radiation will be produced by fracking and drilling.

Reply to  Rich Lambert
November 2, 2020 9:10 am

Most of these fluids are temporarily stored in atmospherically vented tanks, so I suppose there’s an opportunity. But as I already said, BFD……

November 2, 2020 9:09 am

Someone check the radon levels in the basements at Harvard compared to ambient air. Of course if you find something and publish it you could get expelled or fired over it.

Watch out for all the other radiation leaks on campus though.

November 2, 2020 9:11 am

Some time ago when I was first looking at the Radon issue (we lived in Georgia at the time), I looked over some of the EPA’s risk analysis. While I don’t remember the details of my review, my comments at the time were that if Radon was even half as bad as EPA was portraying it, our country would be seeing a lung cancer epidemic that would dwarf anything that had ever been caused by smoking cigarettes. I doubt anything has changed since then.

John F Hultquist
November 2, 2020 9:14 am

My families are from western Pennsylvania. Many of the old homes (ours) had dug-out (dirt floor) basements, and the coal for heating was poured down a chute into a stall (enough to last the winter).

I’ll guess a bit of Radon flowing by in the air outside doesn’t compare.

November 2, 2020 9:17 am

Has Harvard heard of Cornwall?

It’s worse than they thought

Radioactive gas is slowly killing people in Devon and Cornwall
Radon is responsible for more deaths every year than drink drivers and workplace accidents combined

That’s natural granite for you.

Reply to  fretslider
November 3, 2020 1:07 am

That’s not venting radon from houses for you.

Len Werner
November 2, 2020 9:21 am

I’ve actually conducted radon surveys–real ones, on the ground–over geothermal areas. Radon is difficult to measure, and even in areas where crustal migration rates will be elevated, is in extremely small amounts that are many orders of magnitude too small to affect any living thing. That comes from on-the-ground practical experience, not from sitting in front of a computer. Actually measuring radon would have eliminated anyone’s ideas of doing a study like this. But those of us who have done the field work are getting rare, replaced by modellers who then know more than we do, somehow.

Incidentally, one of the places I’ve hiked all over doing one such study changed to this 32 years later–

Timing is everything…

November 2, 2020 9:41 am

Of all the silly scare-mongering, this is near the top of the ridiculous-list.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  beng135
November 2, 2020 10:15 am

Warning! Scientists find that life is the leading cause of death!

November 2, 2020 10:05 am

From an laboratory experiment to mines to basements. The conclusions are reminiscent of the Brockovich story about Hexavalent Chromium as a carcinogen in the wild that causes unobserved excess cancer. Also, the fallout from Fukushima, the recurring ozone hole, the carbon dioxide forcing, the endangerment of vibrant polar bear populations, etc. Improper formulation of water and lead in old pipes was real. The tomb of the unknown (“Planned”) child is real and progressive. Perhaps we can first reduce excess deaths by incompetence and choice for social progress and other purposes.

Ed Bo
November 2, 2020 10:33 am

For those without the math/statistics background who want a simple example of “p-hacking”:

November 2, 2020 10:35 am

For a heavy gas like radon, you really need a topology term, as the radon will seek the lowest point more than blow laterally.

HD Hoese
November 2, 2020 11:45 am

Peters, R. H. 1991 [A Critique for Ecology. Cambridge Univ. Press], used stock recruitment models as examples calling such ecology studies “ad hockery,” a sort of tunnel vision staying on the same paradigm. Maybe evolved into “…we find that too many academics (purposely?) guide their research to produce evidence and make interpretations that support a pre-determined point-of-view. ” Great book.

Mike Dubrasich
November 2, 2020 12:51 pm

Reports from the Harvard School of Public Health have been discredited and debunked so many times that they are laughing stock at best, death clowns at worst. You gotta love this line: We used the conservative method of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). Conservative? Gag me.

Defund these panic mongering frauds. Defund the UN. Defund Harvard. Biggest wastes of money on the Planet.

November 2, 2020 1:35 pm

Fortunately this article on Radon and Fracking is so boring that no one will pay any attention to its ideas.

November 2, 2020 1:53 pm

His stand out study on Radon was done in the 90’s by Professor Bernard Cohen,

He showed, inter alia, that fitting fans in rocky basements INCREASED lung cancer. His OHP talk on this has been removed, but the paper is here.

He exposed the wholly fallacious assumptions of LNT, which was created by real experts who didn’t understand the immune system or how cancers start, so erred on the side of caution. There is a threshold and response is not linear, rather radiation can be hormetic at low levels. Ingesting Po-21- is not recommended, however. Exceot by Mr Putin, for his opponents.

Their less able jobsworth craft successors depend on the now known to be pointlessly low limits for their power and jobs, so oppose the more recent science to keep them, claiming to be experts where in fact they are inadequate jobbing tradesmen.

They have caused the avoidable deaths of thousands with pointless evacuations at safe levels for amany, especially end of life care home residents, based on unnecessarily low limits at Fukushima where no one died and Chernobyl where 50 people died, 30 first responders through over exposure and 20 probably through 6,000 cases of treated thryroid cancer, which was avoidable if Iodine had been issued in a timely way.

nb: The first 12 years of my scientific career where in Health physics and radiation protection, before we understood the radio biology.

Reply to  Brian R Catt
November 2, 2020 3:35 pm

Good writing about Bernie Cohen.

November 2, 2020 2:51 pm

Did some research before commenting. Three nullifiers in addition to those note in the comment:
1. Radon is a problem if it can accumulate, typically in basements or well water. Solution to both is ventilation/aeration—that is, dilution.
2. Radon ‘downwind’ of a fracked well is already diluted. And since the wells are cased to protect the environment and yield the gas, any radon would be in the natural gas, not downwind of the wellhead except during the actual drilling/fracking when the well is obviously not buttoned up. That is af most a few weeks.
3. The posited LNT model does NOT work for radiation (or many other things). Medical X-rays are a simple example.

November 2, 2020 3:06 pm

The usual political witches brew of deep ignorance and shameless opportunism.

Radon is not “particulate” radioactivity, it’s a gas with a 3.8 day half life (222Rn).

The short lived daughters of 222Rn have half-lives of minutes and seconds only so their radioactivity cannot really be separated from that of radon in terms of its distribution.

The long-lived daughters start with 210 Pb whose long 22 year half life means that it’s radioactivity is minuscule compared to the already tiny airborne activity of gaseous radon. Literally the inverse of the ratio of the half lives – 22 years over 3.8 days – do the math. (It’s about 2000 times.)

Radon is not an airborne threat. It’s dispersal reduces its concentration to negligible. Radon is only a threat when its emanation from underlying rock is trapped and concentrated in living spaces with poor ventilation.

So of all the non-threats associated with fracking, radon is the most laughable and baseless of f them all.

Seriously, 0.024 MILLI Grays per m3 a danger?? That’s absurd. In the UK the mean concentration in houses is 20 mGy / m3 – one thousand times higher. And if instead of shortlisted radon they’re talking about 210Pb and it’s supported daughters (Bi and Po 210) their ratio and concentration will be 2000 times less again! Something like 4 million times less radioactivity than the average in UK homes.

And that’s just the average. The UK is not a particularly high radon country, except for Cornwall where my grandparents lived (Redruth). We measured the radon level in their granite house while they were alive. It was about 1000 Bq/m3. Both lived there happily into their late 80’s and 90’s.

This opportunistic snatch at radon as an argument against fracking is utterly non-physical and cynical. They assume that left-minded readers will simply arm themselves with the words radon and radioactivity without caring about the odd 6-9 orders of magnitude separating it from any possible health effect.

Reply to  Phil Salmon
November 2, 2020 3:18 pm

Correction – Becquerels not Grays.

Robert of Ottawa
November 2, 2020 3:14 pm

Oh dear, the Radon scare redux.

November 2, 2020 3:26 pm

True story (I don’t have a link, it was several years ago, it was in French so you’ll have to believe me):

An anti colonialist association/blog accused Areva (it was Areva at the time, before the split up) for ventilating its Niger uranium mines too much, causing radon emissions in the area!

The actual health issue in Niger being the fine sand that’s so light it’s breathable and very aggressive.

November 2, 2020 3:39 pm

Good writing about Bernie Cohen.

November 2, 2020 3:52 pm

There’s only one place where outdoor airborne radon long lived daughters exist in elevated concentration with the potential to pose a health risk: north Canada. And even there, they don’t.

In parts of the Canadian tundra, natural uranium ore in rock and soil causes airborne levels of Pb and Po210, the radon long-lived daughters, to be elevated above normal. But these levels are still too low to cause any radiological issue without some concentrating mechanism. Such a mechanism is provided by lichens, caribou and Inuit hunters.

Lichens cover the Tundra and survive its nutrient poor soils by absorbing chemicals from the air. This includes Pb and Po 210. Since lichens live very long, for several decades, they concentrate these radionuclides in their tissues. Lichens are eaten by caribou on their long Arctic migration. So Pb and Po 210 concentrate in caribou tissue, principally bones, liver and kidney. Lead (Pb) like many metals is a “boneseeker” able to substitute for calcium in the Ca hydroxyapatite mineral of bone.

So for example, in humans the natural radionuclides Pb and (supported) Po 210 are found in our bones with a concentration of about one Becquerel per kg – negligible. In Canadian caribou bone the same nuclides are typically at 500-3000 Bq/kg. But even this causes caribou no health effects, they have been exposed to this for as long as they have been living in Canada. Inuit hunters eat caribou and like to cook something like steak and kidney pie from caribou, which is the closest humans get to potentially significant intake of natural radioactivity from the tail end of the 238 uranium series. And it’s of borderline radiobiological significance at best.

Reply to  Phil Salmon
November 3, 2020 5:05 pm

Are caribous considered nuclear waste?
Are they regulated under EURATOM?
If UK leaves the EU completely, would its citizen be exposed to dangerous caribous waste?
Is caribou used to make dirty bombs?
(One of the main argument against leaving EURATOM was the terror risk of radioactive material.)

Geoff Sherrington
November 2, 2020 4:29 pm

For some 20 years I was Chief Geochemist within the companies that discovered and mined the world-class Ranger uranium deposits in the Top End of Australia. My scientific interest in radon-222 was two-fold, health & safety and exploration potential. There was a theory at the time that the decay of uranium from concealed deposits released radon that found its way to the surface, where multiple measurements might define a pattern leading to a new uranium discovery.
In the course of my investigations, it became apparent that there was a great deal of published hogwash about radon. In short, while we did detect some that indicated ore buried below, there was also a signal from uranium decay, involving isotopes other than radon and giving a stronger signal. A simple gamma ray survey was just as effective as a radon survey and far cheaper. We threw existing theory overboard and found that, for the hot tropic, lateritic soil setting at Ranger, the release of radon from surface soils was short-term cyclic with diurnal and annaul signals, that related to the weather. The simplest assumption was that these minute amounts of mobile radon existed as dissolved in water (moisture) and as the hot sum beat down on the soil it evaporated water and released radon. Most of the radon we measured fitted this mechanism. There was no potential for finding deep uranium deposits because the near-surfac radon we found was always associated with other elements such as near-surface uranium, even in tiny amounts. It might be different in other settings, but I suspect not. Earlier conjectural theories had radon migrating through rock and soil as a gas on its own, as if it were an inert gas, rather that one with a half life of 3.8 days.

We mined the Ranger deposits, with cumulative value of production to 2015 and in 2015 Aust dollars of $22.2 billion. We had people working in the pits and underground all the time for 20 years. There were no radon illnesses of which I am aware.
When you can have people working daily one of the world’s largest uranium mines, causing no radon illnesses, you have to wonder about the capacity of a few oil drill holes for fracking to cause radon illnesses of their own.
Geoff S

Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
November 2, 2020 10:11 pm

You do indeed.

November 2, 2020 5:40 pm

For extra credit, maybe Li et al. could compare and contrast their modeled doses with measured doses in the U.S. Capitol and Library of Congress Buildings.

November 2, 2020 6:54 pm

(we highlight hedging words): <- You forgot to do this…

1 “…widespread UOGD [fracking] could induce adverse health effects to residents living close to UOGD by elevating PR [radon]” in their Abstract

2 “Our analysis demonstrates that upwind UOGD activities could significantly elevate the PR level in downwind communities…” in their Discussion

3 “…it is possible that the widespread of UOGD could induce adverse health effects to residents in proximity by elevating the PR” in their Discussion

That was a lot of hedging.

Earl T. Hackett
November 2, 2020 7:52 pm

This is dumb. Run a mass spec sample from up wind and down wind and show the data. Cost maybe $200. No need for a grant for that. I spend more than that every month on my hobby.

November 2, 2020 11:08 pm

Note that p-hacking is the best friend of junior faculty seeking tenure. Most of the reviewers of their submitted papers don’t have a clue about. And a lot them wouldn’t care eve they were aware of it.

Reviewing papers is a chore and there are very few incentives to do much with it if a paper doesn’t set off any of the reviewers triggers.

M__ S__
November 3, 2020 8:24 am

So many “studies” these days remind me of pronouncement by witch doctors—the equivalent of “it’ll anger the spirits”.

Heaven forbid we rely on actual in situ data measurements.

November 3, 2020 8:35 am

There’s only one way to put yourself in actual danger from the long-lived daughters of radon, lead (Pb) and polonium (Po) 210: pi55 off Vladimir Putin! (Then accept a cup of green tea from a stranger.)

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