UCI-led study finds prolonged, low-level radon exposure still a leading cause of lung cancer
Data analysis shows high mortality rates, indicating stronger protections needed
Irvine, Calif., June 14, 2022 – A study led by the University of California, Irvine shows a strong relationship between prolonged exposure to low levels of radon and lung cancer, indicating a need for enhanced protection measures. Radon gas in the air decays into tiny radioactive particles which can damage lung cells and lead to cancer.
Findings were recently published in the online journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
“Mining operations today tend to involve lower exposures than in the past, but our study shows that these lower exposures still increase a person’s lung cancer risk. Reducing radon exposure in our workplaces and homes remains an important way to reduce lung cancer,” said David B. Richardson, Ph.D., corresponding author, UCI Program in Public Health associate dean of research and professor of environmental and occupational health.
Miners historically have had among the highest levels of workplace radon exposure, but the team also noted a wide variety of other workplaces where radon presents significant hazards, including subways, tunnels, utility service ducts, underground parking garages, phosphate fertilizer plants, and oil refineries. Residential settings also pose a threat. Concentrations are typically low but can vary widely, depending on geology, building construction, ventilation and heating.
Unlike prior studies that relied heavily upon information that was collected when radon exposures were high and poorly estimated, the international team focused on contemporary miners working in Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany and the U.S. Their findings show that the risk of lung cancer increases with low-level radon exposures, and particularly impacts the risk of lung cancer among young adults.
“Our study underscores the need for better protections and sets a strong foundation to build a new generation of models for developing estimates on the risk of lung cancer after low-level radon exposure, which is the primary contemporary concern,” Richardson said.
The team included health professionals and academics from the U.S., Canada, the Czech Republic, France and Germany.
This work was supported by international organizations in the U.S., France, the Czech Republic and Canada: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under Award Number R03 OH010946; the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; the CDC in association with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health under Award Number R21OH011452; the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety; the National Radiation Protection Institute; the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission; the Ontario Ministry of Labor; and the Canadian Cancer Society.
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