Training the Trainer on the Risks of Radon Exposure

Nov 6, 2017

Medical practitioners and allied health professionals are often unaware of the risk of radon exposure, the second leading cause of lung cancer and Dr. Farhan M. Asrar is raising awareness to change that.

“Radon has been around for quite a while, and there is still a lack of awareness around the risk of exposure,” says Dr. Asrar who is an an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto Department of Family and Community Medicine (DFCM) and the physician research lead at the Credit Valley and Summerville Family Medicine Teaching Units.

“We are educating and training medical practitioners about the risk of radon exposure because it bears repeating.” Dr. Farhan Asrar Dr. Farhan Asrar, Assistant Professor at DFCM

Radon, an odourless radioactive gas, is formed through the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. Its particles seep into the ground and water, is released in fresh air and breathed through lungs. It can enter homes through an opening in contact with soil.

Dr. Asrar is one of the trainers of the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) Train the Trainer Project, developed by The College of Family Physicians Canada (CFPC) and funded by Health Canada. It raises awareness about the risk of radon exposure among healthcare professionals and educates them about the Air Quality Health Index. The project intends to encourage health professionals including physicians, nurses, asthma educators and respiratory therapists to use the AQHI and counsel patients on the harmful effects of air pollution including radon exposure.

“All homes have a certain amount of radon but a study found that as much as 8.2 per cent of homes in Ontario had radon above the acceptable levels as dictated by Health Canada. In 2007, Health Canada announced the lowering of acceptable levels of radon in homes from 800 to 200 Bq/m3. The World Health Organization recommends a level of 100 Bq/m3 with a maximum of 300 Bq/m3.”

The train the trainer initiative began in 2012, and since then, a large number of physicians and health professionals have already received training. Dr. Asrar who was also part of the Ontario College of Family Physicians’ Environmental Health Committee (EHC) and founder/editor of its provincial EHC newsletter, has given several presentations to colleagues, physicians and residency programs. He has also hosted Q&As, written articles for internal departments and physician communities like the Ontario Medical Association and other provincial medical associations. Dr. Asrar is setting his sights on updating curriculums to include radon exposure in several Masters of Public Health programs. In the coming weeks, he will present the AQHI, radon exposure, climate change and its impact on health-related issues to University of Toronto medical students and resident physicians.

“There are approximately 3,200 radon exposure-related deaths in Canada annually. When I speak to health care professionals, I often hear ‘What we do now?’” he says. “The sessions on radon that the trainers conduct can vary from presentations at conferences to journal clubs, academic half-days to even one-on-one sessions with physicians. The attending physicians, in turn, can then educate their colleagues and patients about the risks and steps one can take to mitigate their risk.”

Dr. Asrar is quick to acknowledge that he is not the only advocate at DFCM. Dr. Alan Abelsohn, an Associate Professor at DFCM, is one of many environmental health leaders in the department who is championing some of the challenges of public health and climate change on overall health. He is also responsible for initiating and leading the CFPC AQHI train the trainer project.

“Several academic faculty members, notably Drs. Ross Upshur and Abelsohn, are championing environmental health issues at various levels. I am extremely proud of their work and I cannot wait to continue to raise awareness about the risk of environmental health and public health issues on a broader scale.”

November is Radon Action Month. See links below for more information on radon.

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