Estimating the burden of lung cancer in Canada attributed to occupational radon exposure using a novel exposure assessment method

Ge CB, Kim J, Labrèche F, Heer E, Song C, Arrandale VH, Pahwa M, Peters CE, Demers PA. Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2020;93(7):871-876.

Objective: Exposure to radon causes lung cancer. The scope and impact of exposure among Canadian workers have not been assessed. Our study estimated occupational radon exposure in Canada and its associated lung cancer burden.

Methods: Exposed workers were identified among the working population during the risk exposure period (1961–2001) using data from the Canadian Census and Labour Force Survey. Exposure levels were assigned based on 12,865 workplace radon measurements for indoor workers and assumed to be 1800 mg/m3 for underground workers. Lung cancer risks were calculated using the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) VI exposure-age-concentration model. Population attributable fractions were calculated with Levin’s equation and applied to 2011 Canadian lung cancer statistics.

Results: Approximately 15.5 million Canadian workers were exposed to radon during the risk exposure period. 79% of exposed workers were exposed to radon levels < 50 Bq/m3 and 4.8% were exposed to levels > 150 Bq/m3. We estimated that 0.8% of lung cancers in Canada were attributable to occupational radon exposure, corresponding to approximately 188 incident lung cancers in 2011.

Conclusions: The lung cancer burden associated with occupational radon exposure in Canada is small, with the greatest burden occurring among those exposed to low levels of radon.