Disequilibria between 210Pb and 226Ra can be used to trace magma degassing, because the intermediate nuclides, particularly 222Rn, are volatile. Products of the 1980-1986 eruptions of Mount St. Helens have been analysed for (210Pb/226Ra). Both excesses and deficits of 210Pb are encountered suggesting rapid gas transfer. The time scale of diffuse, non-eruptive gas escape prior to 1980 as documented by 210Pb deficits is on the order of a decade using the model developed by Gauthier and Condomines (Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 172 (1999) 111-126) for a non-renewed magma chamber and efficient Rn removal. The time required to build-up 210Pb excess is much shorter (months) as can be observed from steady increases of (210Pb/226Ra) with time during 1980-1982. The formation of 210Pb excess requires both rapid gas transport through the magma and periodic blocking of gas escape routes. Superposed on this time trend is the natural variability of (210Pb/226Ra) in a single eruption caused by tapping magma from various depths. The two time scales of gas transport, to create both 210Pb deficits and 210Pb excesses, cannot be reconciled in a single event. Rather 210Pb deficits are associated with pre-eruptive diffuse degassing, while 210Pb excesses document the more vigorous degassing associated with eruption and recharge of the system.