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Mortality (1950–1999) and cancer incidence (1969–1999) of workers in the Port Hope cohort study exposed to a unique combination of radium, uranium and γ-ray doses
  1. Lydia B Zablotska1,
  2. Rachel S D Lane2,
  3. Stanley E Frost3
  1. 1Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
  2. 2Radiation and Health Sciences Division, Directorate of Environmental and Radiation Protection and Assessment, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  3. 3Frost & Frost Consultants, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr. Lydia B Zablotska; Lydia.Zablotska{at}


Objectives Uranium processing workers are exposed to uranium and radium compounds from the ore dust and to γ-ray radiation, but less to radon decay products (RDP), typical of the uranium miners. We examined the risks of these exposures in a cohort of workers from Port Hope radium and uranium refinery and processing plant.

Design A retrospective cohort study with carefully documented exposures, which allowed separation of those with primary exposures to radium and uranium.

Settings Port Hope, Ontario, Canada, uranium processors with no mining experience.

Participants 3000 male and female workers first employed (1932–1980) and followed for mortality (1950–1999) and cancer incidence (1969–1999).

Outcome measures Cohort mortality and incidence were compared with the general Canadian population. Poisson regression was used to evaluate the association between cumulative RDP exposures and γ-ray doses and causes of death and cancers potentially related to radium and uranium processing.

Results Overall, workers had lower mortality and cancer incidence compared with the general Canadian population. In analyses restricted to men (n=2645), the person-year weighted mean cumulative RDP exposure was 15.9 working level months (WLM) and the mean cumulative whole-body γ-ray dose was 134.4 millisieverts. We observed small, non-statistically significant increases in radiation risks of mortality and incidence of lung cancer due to RDP exposures (excess relative risks/100 WLM=0.21, 95% CI <−0.45 to 1.59 and 0.77, 95% CI <−0.19 to 3.39, respectively), with similar risks for those exposed to radium and uranium. All other causes of death and cancer incidence were not significantly associated with RDP exposures or γ-ray doses or a combination of both.

Conclusions In one of the largest cohort studies of workers exposed to radium, uranium and γ-ray doses, no significant radiation-associated risks were observed for any cancer site or cause of death. Continued follow-up and pooling with other cohorts of workers exposed to by-products of radium and uranium processing could provide valuable insight into occupational risks and suspected differences in risk with uranium miners.

  • Epidemiology
  • Occupational & Industrial Medicine

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