Eliminating Radon as a Source of Cancer
Among people who have never smoked, radioactive radon gas is the primary cause of lung cancer. Radon emits highly toxic alpha particle radiation, which often damages our DNA irreparably, leading to genetic mutations that cause cancer.
Exposure to high enough doses of radiation can induce cancer in all individuals. But some people are genetically predisposed to develop cancer after exposure to radioactive sources like radon. They will develop the disease sooner than others and after lower doses. A critical question for those exposed to radon is: What is my personal risk of developing lung cancer?
Dr. Aaron Goodarzi, Canada Research Chair in Radiation Exposure Disease, is trying to answer this question. He and his research team are unpacking the problem at a molecular level to determine radon’s dangerous effects on DNA.
Canada has many radon-generating regions, and we have built cities across all of them. But three factors are needed for people to incur hazardous radon exposure: a geologic source and pathway (upwards) for radon underneath a building; building metrics that actively draw up and concentrate radon; and human behaviour that prolongs exposure or increases radon concentrations inside buildings.
Goodarzi has found that one in eight Alberta homes exceeds Health Canada’s maximum acceptable radon exposure limits. As well, while all homes are potentially at risk, newer homes tend to contain higher levels of radon than older properties. Goodarzi’s research will help determine why this is the case, define the problem across Canada, and support actions to reverse these trends so we can “evict radon” from homes.