Health study digs through data of 80,000 uranium workers

Do you ever wonder about the health and safety of the people who work in Canada’s uranium mines, mills or other sites and who regularly handle naturally radioactive materials like uranium as part of their jobs? Epidemiologists Dr. Rachel Lane and Ms. Kristi Randhawa at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) certainly do: they are leading a 4-year study to look at the long-term health of uranium workers in an effort to find new evidence about the role radon plays in lung cancer.

Some of the world’s toughest health and safety regulations protect Canadians working in places where uranium is mined, milled, processed and fabricated. The workers and the air they breathe are regularly monitored for exposure to radiation, especially radon, which is released when uranium decays. In fact, today’s modern workers often have radon exposures lower than those naturally occurring in the surrounding local communities.

And while past studies found that overall; uranium workers were as healthy as other Canadians. Lung cancer was the only disease associated with radiation where uranium miners had higher death rates than the general male population. This is why Dr. Lane and Ms. Randhawa felt it was important to update these studies and further our understanding of the relationship between radon and lung cancer.

The CNSC team will not be alone in trying to explore these relationships. Dr. Anne Leis and Dr. Punam Pahwa from the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Community Health and Epidemiology will lead a statistical analysis of health data from nearly 80,000 Canadian workers. This sprawling study will investigate the causes of death going back to 1950 and cancer data from 1970 onwards for all types of uranium workers.

These 70 years of mortality and 50 years of cancer data, along with data on workers monitored for occupational exposures to ionizing radiation, will give real insight into the long-term health outcomes.

A host of experts, including radiation specialists, union representatives, Indigenous community representatives, academics and others, will also support this work. These partners will keep their networks and communities informed as the study progresses and will work to ensure that the process and results are relevant and meaningful.

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