Cancer researcher in Halifax studies effects of exposure to radon gas and arsenic – Halifax


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A national study led by researchers in Halifax looks at the effects of exposure to radon gas and arsenic on the human body and examines how the knowledge gained could support health policy in Canada.


dr. Graham Dellaire, a professor in the Department of Pathology at Dalhousie University, leads a team of experts from around the country as they investigate the two primary carcinogens that affect cancer risk in humans.

Researchers, Dellaire explained, hope their study will help doctors better communicate the risks of arsenic and give patients the desire to have their blood or toenails tested for exposure — just as they would have their cholesterol tested for risk of exposure. heart and vascular disease.

“They (doctors) can tell you that this is your pathological exposure to arsenic and radon and that these are the lifestyle choices you can make right now to protect yourself,” he said in a recent interview.

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Recent studies have shown that exposure to dangerous amounts of arsenic and radon contributes to 3,500 cases of lung cancer in Canada each year. Dellaire says he hopes his research will help increase public awareness of the potential dangers.

“This is fully addressable,” Dellaire said. “People are getting the message about radon, but we haven’t gotten the message about arsenic yet and both are avoidable, high-impact carcinogens in our environment.”

Arsenic is in our drinking water supply, our soil and in crustaceans, he said, adding that anyone living near a gold mine could be exposed to it because of the wastewater it produces.

Dellaire said arsenic is a particular problem in Atlantic Canada, where many people sit on well water. “It is estimated that 20 percent of wells are contaminated with levels above what is considered a safe level of 10 parts per billion of arsenic in water,” he said.


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The study aims to build on previous epidemiological research indicating that the national standard should be lowered to five parts per billion because of the risks of continued exposure, Dellaire said.

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He added that even for someone who doesn’t smoke, arsenic increases the risk of bladder, kidney and prostate cancer, while radon is mainly associated with lung cancer. Radon is attributed to about 10 percent of lung cancers in Canada, while arsenic is associated with between 2 and 3 percent of lung cancers.

Canada generally has high levels of radon gas due to the country’s geology, with large deposits of granite containing uranium. The gas from the deposits can seep into the open basements of homes, leading to long-term exposure.

But unlike arsenic levels, which can be measured in people’s toenails for up to three months after exposure, Dellaire said there is no equivalent test for detecting radon levels.

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That could change, however, after the research team received more than $2 million in funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which Dellaire said will be used to build a metal-free mass spectrometry facility at the University of Calgary. head Aaron Goodarzi is based. The facility will help measure the minute amounts of radioactive lead that are a residual breakdown product of radon exposure.

The lead has a half-life of 22 years, and Dellaire said the ability to measure it in blood, urine or tissue samples would give a glimpse of nearly a lifetime of radon exposure.

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Another portion of the funding will be used to maintain an existing facility in Halifax that measures arsenic and to build a new facility in 2022 to support tumor banking, the process of storing tumor and blood samples.

Dellaire said researchers are already looking for signatures in tumor tissue for past arsenic exposure to understand the history of various cancers and how they develop.

“It will likely have an impact on your therapy and how effective your therapy is,” he said of the information gathered from the studies.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 13, 2021.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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