Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.


Radon is a colorless, tasteless and odorless gas that is radioactive and can cause cancer. It forms naturally when radioactive elements like uranium, thorium, or radium break down. This element can then move around in the environment by migrating as a gas or by dissolving in moving groundwater.

The main health concern surrounding radon is lung cancer. In the United States, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Surgeon General’s office estimate that radon is responsible for more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the country. This risk is greatly increased among people who smoke.

Radon can affect your health by entering the body as a gas or in one of its multiple “progeny” forms. These progenies are other radioactive elements that form when radon decays and gives off radiation. Although they are solid, these progenies can still move around because they attach to dust particles that are easily carried around in air. As a result, the main route of exposure to radon and its progenies is through inhalation of contaminated air. The main source of exposure is people’s homes, especially poorly ventilated basements. Once breathed in, radon and its progeny particles can deposit in your lungs and impart a significant dose of radiation to the lung tissue.

Radioactive dust particles similar to those formed from radon decay are a concern for the people of Rostraver Township who live around the Westmorland landfill in Pennsylvania. Although mostly a solid waste landfill, Westmoreland also accepts certain hazardous wastes including fracking waste that in many instances is radioactive. This radioactive waste, when dissolved in the landfill’s leachate (water inside the landfill with waste dissolved in it), is planned on being treated by a new and unproved system that essentially boils leachate. The result is the formation of dust particles that can contain radioactive elements attached to them. CHEJ has helped the group working with the local community, Protect PT, with this and several other issues surrounding the proposed leachate treatment system.

Learn about more toxics