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Incidence of brain and spinal cord cancer and county-level radon levels in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Iowa, USA

Monastero, Rebecca N., Meliker, Jaymie R.
Environmental geochemistry and health 2020 v.42 no.2 pp. 389-395
Internet, autocorrelation, brain, ionizing radiation, neoplasms, radon, risk factors, spinal cord, therapeutics, working conditions, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin
Ionizing radiation at diagnostic and therapeutic doses is a known contributor to the development of brain and spinal cord (CNS) cancer. However, little is known about risk from exposure to radon, a natural radiation source which the general population is exposed to residentially and environmentally. This study investigated correlations between mean county radon levels and CNS cancer incidence in five highly populated and radon-enriched US states (Minnesota, mean radon level 4.6 pCi/L; Wisconsin, 5.7 pCi/L; Pennsylvania, 8.6 pCi/L; Iowa, 6.1 pCi/L; and New Jersey, 4.4 pCi/L). Mean radon levels per county were accessed through AirChek, which provides publicly available radon data measured in residences and workplaces. CNS cancer incidence data were accessed through the states’ health department websites and span differing amounts of time due to the publicly accessible nature of the data, though all time spans were over 10 years. Negative binomial regressions were run to assess correlations between mean radon and CNS cancer incidence per county. Quantile maps were constructed and Moran’s I was calculated to assess spatial autocorrelation in residuals; no spatial autocorrelation was evident. Iowa was the only state with a significant positive association between radon and CNS incidence; no associations were detected in other states, and a negative association was observed in the 5 states combined. This study does not provide evidence that radon is a risk factor for CNS cancer; however, the possibility of an association cannot be ruled out due to limitations of the study, principally its ecologic nature and lack of individual-level exposure data.