Sudbury

Sudbury doctor encouraging people to test their homes for radon

A Sudbury doctor is finishing the second phase of a research project to determine how much radon in the home can be considered dangerous.

Radon is the second-highest cause of lung cancer in Canada

Exposure to radon has been linked to lung cancer. (CBC)

A Sudbury doctor is finishing the second phase of a research project to determine how much radon in the home can be considered dangerous.

Doctor Leslie Sutherland, a scientist at the Health Sciences North Research Institute, told CBC's Up North that the little-known gas is the second-highest cause of lung cancer, following tobacco.

Radon is a gas emitted when rock composes naturally, Sutherland said. It's present almost everywhere in Ontario, but can become problematic when it gets trapped inside without any proper ventilation.

"Everybody knows from when the atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, we know that very high levels of radiation cause cancer, and acute levels can kill you," Sutherland said. "What we don't know is what low levels of radon can do. Do they affect the body, and how?"

"It's been associated with some leukemias, and there's question if it plays a role in childhood leukemia."

Dr. Leslie Sutherland, along with her team of researchers, has been studying the effects of radon exposure. (Health Sciences North)

Sutherland said she's in the second phase of her research, in which she incubates human lung cells in the presence of rock.

In these incubators they can monitor the levels of radon emitted from rock, as well as how cells change in its presence. So far, her team has seen changes to cells in as early as one week of exposure to radon.

"What we don't know is if these cells are onto a pathway to becoming cancerous or whether they are stimulating the cells to adapt to radon," Sutherland said.

"Because there is such a thing as an adaptive response to low level radon," she added.  "Because everything on the planet is exposed to radiation, and [scientists] are thinking that life has evolved because we can adapt to low levels of radiation."

"Sometimes it's actually stimulating a repair response."

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