Radon Research Series

The COVID-19 pandemic produced widespread behaviour changes that shifted how people split their time between different environments, altering health risks including lung cancer.

Since 2020, we have been studying North American activity patterns before and after the pandemic onset and the implications this has had (and continues to have) on radioactive radon gas exposure, a leading cause of lung cancer. We have surveyed >6,000 Canadian households home to >12,000 adults and children of varied ages, gender, employment, community, and income.

While overall time spent indoors remained unchanged during the height of the pandemic response between 2020-2021, the amount of time spent in the primary residence increased from 66.4 to 77% of life (+1062h/y) after pandemic onset, increasing annual radiation doses from residential radon by 19.2% (+0.97mSv/y).

Disproportionately greater changes were experienced by younger people in newer urban or suburban properties with more occupants and/or those employed in managerial, administrative, or professional roles, excluding medicine. A large proportion of the effect was driven by telecommuting (working from home), now recognized as an increasingly normalized habit across many sectors.

In the latter pandemic stages and response exit periods between 2022-2023, activity patterns changed further, adjusting to a “new normal” which is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels of time split between different environments. Our work on this is ongoing, and we are currently exploring the relationship between disability status, activity patterns, and radon exposure. This work supports re-evaluating environmental health risks modified by still-changing activity patterns.

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