Initial Discovery of Radon Linked Cancer

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As you will see below, the cancer risk from exposure to radon became widely known in the 1950’s.

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In 1932, two Czech scientists and physicians published a landmark study in the American Journal of Cancer (Pirchan and Sikl 1932). They linked miners’ lung tumors with radon exposure in Czechoslovakian mines. Ten years later, Wilhelm C. Hueper, a world leading expert on lung cancer and founding director of the environmental cancer section of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, came to the same conclusion. He reviewed 300 years of radon data on European miners and found that radon gas produced lung cancer that killed more than half of all miners 10-20 years after their employment. He issued warnings worldwide, including in Canada. These were largely unheeded.

Declassified documents from the 1950s show that the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission told Hueper that references to occupational cancers among uranium miners were “not in the public interest” and “represented mere conjecture”(Nikiforuk 1998). Forty years after the Czech study was published and thirty years after Hueper’s warnings, a 1974 Ontario Royal Commission on the Health and Safety of Workers in Mines found that Elliot Lake uranium miners were experiencing twice as many lung cancers as expected. The report was filed the same year the WCB would hear Gus Froebel’s case.

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