November 2016

Environmental and Occupational Health Pearls

A new bi-monthly feature providing clinical information and resources from Public Health Ontario on matters relating to environmental and occupational health.


November is Radon Awareness month. Classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, radon is one of the leading causes of lung cancer. Reducing exposure to indoor radon would result in fewer lung cancers in Ontario.

Q: What is the issue?

A: Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that is formed naturally from the decay of uranium that then enters buildings and accumulates in indoor air.1 Inhaled radon gas then irradiates the lining of the lungs and the resultant damage can cause lung cancer.2 This risk is even higher among current smokers. In Ontario, radon accounts for about 850 lung cancer deaths each year.3

Q: How can Family Physicians respond?

A: Counsel patients to test their homes and fix identified issues. Test kits are available at local hardware stores or can be ordered online, more information can be found here. Family physicians may also advocate for local building codes controlling radon exposures indoors.3

Q: Where can one find more information?

A: See Public Health Ontario’s website for:


[1] World Health Organization. WHO handbook on indoor radon: a public health perspective. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2009 [cited 2013 Oct 28]. Available from:

[2] Committee on Health Risks of Exposure to Radon (BEIR VI), National Research Council. Health effects of exposure to radon: BEIR VI. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 1999 [cited 2013 Oct 28]. Available from:

[3] Cancer Care Ontario, Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion (Public Health Ontario). Environmental burden of cancer in Ontario. Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario; 2016. Available from: or

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