Episode 185 - Radon

Introduction

This podcast is brought to you by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and safety.

Ashley

Radon exposure is a leading cause of lung cancer among Canadian workers. And today, we're going to talk about how employers can keep their workers safe from radon. We're joined by. Dr. Cheryl Peters, co-principal investigator at CAREX Canada. Dr. Peters is also a research scientist in cancer. Epidemiology and prevention research out Alberta Health Services as well as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the department of oncology at the Cummings School of Medicine, at the University of Calgary.

Dr. Peters, you shared some of your knowledge about radon with us when you were a guest on our podcast, five years ago. Thanks for joining us again, it's been a while.

Dr. Peters

Thanks for having me Ashley.

Ashley

To give our listeners, a quick refresher. What is radon and why is regular testing and detection so important?

Dr. Peters

Yeah. So, radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It's produced when uranium in soils and rock breaks down over time.

Outdoors, radon, quickly dissipates to relatively low levels, but it can concentrate inside homes and workplaces, given the right conditions. Additionally, some workers interact directly with uranium, like people who are mining uranium, and they can be exposed that way.

And it's important to test your home, as well as to test workplaces, for radon. Even in low-risk areas, homes with radon that is too high exist everywhere. And radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in Canada. After smoking.

Ashley

Could you tell us some developments or milestones around radon that have happened since last we spoke?

 

 

Dr. Peters

Yeah. I mean the field of radon is evolving all the time, but I would say that the main driver of changes in radon exposure more recently at work and at home is the pandemic and working from home.

So, some recent research Iím a part of with a team called Evict Radon, demonstrated that the pandemic did drive exposure levels higher, simply because we spent more time at home and that includes working from home.

So, for a lot of us that have been working from home, spending more time in a place where radon can be uncontrolled, if our homes aren't tested, has driven up exposure to radon. So that's probably the biggest development I would say in the last couple of years.

Ashley

So, what do employers need to do to keep employees safe from radon exposure? Both, you know, what, if they're working in an in-person workplace and when they're working from home.

Dr. Peters

Well, thatís an interesting question about working from home. And I think that's probably going to be the subject of a lot of legislation review coming up since there's a whole slew of different considerations you have to have about people working from home. And how much their employer is responsible for them. But basically, all employers have a responsibility to protect their workers from exposure to carcinogens. And that includes radon. And it can be sometimes difficult to understand, just who is responsible for what and industries with direct radon exposure. Like the uranium miners, I mentioned before, they have more direct knowledge of what they should do. And workers in industries are monitored by a program called the National Dose Registry, that's run by Health Canada.

But for other workers, who might be more incidentally exposed just because radon exists in the building they work in, there's a bit more confusion about it. So, the occupational exposure limits for radon have tended to focus on these, you know, uranium mines or other high-risk workers. And for more public or office buildings, these aren't necessarily appropriate. So, Health Canada has a guideline for public buildings of two hundred becquerels per meter cubed, which is the unit we use to measure radon. And public buildings are often workplaces. So that guideline from Health Canada should stand in those situations.

Ashley

Walk us through how the testing process works.

 

 

Dr. Peters

Yeah, so it's kind of similar in workplaces and in people's homes. So, typically, you want to do a long-term sample, three months done over the winter is the recommended way of doing it from Health Canada, since this time of year in Canada is when our homes and workplaces are more sealed up due to the colder weather that we have. And the samplers kind of look like a small hockey puck, theyíre placed in an area where they won't be disturbed and basically, just left there for three months. And then the samplers are sent to a lab for analysis and the results are provided afterwards.

And when testing buildings, your homes or workplaces, it can be a good idea to place a few samplers in different areas. But focusing on rooms where people spend time, especially those that are closer to the ground like a basement because that's where a radon can accumulate.

Ashley

Have there been any significant changes to existing legislation on radon, either in homes or in workplaces?

Dr. Peters

You know, not to my knowledge.

No, the way it works now for workplaces is that a few jurisdictions have radon specific exposure limits and the rest have kind of overall limits that just relate to ionizing radiation in general. Which radon is. Something that is a source of ionizing radiation. Distinctions are sometimes made between nuclear workers and everybody else, as well.

For home exposure, I mentioned before the health Canada guideline is still two hundred becquerels per cubic meter. That is a guideline. So, it's not necessarily a legal requirement that you'd have to do in your home. And some organizations, really want radon to be included in building codes. And for people, selling their homes, to have to test, and to disclose to potential home buyers like you might with asbestos. And we'll see in the future if some of these changes come to pass.

Ashley

Is there a program or project you're working on at the moment that you'd like our listeners to know about?

Dr. Peters

Sure. So, I guess I'll probably highlight what we've been doing at CAREX Canada.

So, we recently finished doing an update to all of our estimates of occupational carcinogens exposures, and that includes radon. So, I would invite your listeners to check out CAREXCanada.ca. On the website we have profiles for more than 40 carcinogens as well as estimates of how many people are exposed to those carcinogens including radon at home and at work. And you can find information on how people are exposed, the legislation in Canada, and a ton of other resources on the important occupational and environmental carcinogens in Canada.

Ashley

Amazing. Is there anything else you'd like her listeners to know about radon?

Dr. Peters

Yeah, just that radon isn't scary. It's easy to test for. Because it's really hard to predict which homes or buildings will have an issue it's really important that you test your home and it's relatively inexpensive to do so. And mitigating for radon, if you do have a problem, isn't as expensive as for something like asbestos. It's much cheaper to fix the problem. So, it's definitely worth testing and working to reduce our risk of radon exposure.

Ashley

Dr. Peters. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Peters

Thank you. Ashley. If you're looking for more information on radon exposure and how to keep safe in the workplace, go to CCOHS.ca and search radon for all our resources.

Thanks for listening everyone.