Health Unit Defends Cancer Cluster Study Findings file photo of Windsor-Essex County Health Unit Medical Officer of Health Dr. Gary Kirk, September 17, 2015. (Photo by Jason Viau)

The medical officer of health at the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit is defending the findings of a study into the possible cancer cluster in Remington Park.

Many at a recent public meeting complain the study only blamed tobacco smoke for 12 cases of lung cancer in the Windsor neighbourhood, but Dr. Gary Kirk says that’s not entirely accurate.

“We just made the statement that 12 people, all 12 that we were able to speak with, had cigarette smoking as a common causal factor, not that it caused their cancer. There’s a difference in those statements,” he says.

Kirk says there are other possible causes for cancers in the neighbourhood, including exposure through work or hobby activities, and radon exposure.

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that results from the degradation of uranium in the soil. Exposure to the gas is responsible for up to 8% of all lung cancers, compared to tobacco smoke which is blamed for 80% to 90% of diagnoses. Kirk says none of the homes where the study participants lived had radon detectors.

As part of its follow-up to the study, the health unit plans to give away 1,000 radon testing kits again this year.

Kirk says once homeowners know if they are exposed to radon in their homes they can take measures to mitigate the effects on their health.

Some residents also wonder if the study was worthwhile, but Kirk says he has no doubt that it was but admits those investigations often “bare little fruit.”

“Out of 428 cancer cluster investigations, only one showed a clear-cut environmental cause, so you know going into it that the odds are low at finding something,” says Kirk. “I can understand that you might be disappointed with the results and then say ‘well, why did you do it?’ I think if we hadn’t done it, we might have been getting asked right now why we didn’t do it.”

The study looked at cancer cases diagnosed between 2000 and 2009.

Kirk encourages participants in the study, and anyone else with concerns, to get involved in the Ontario Health Study which is tracking chronic disease throughout the province.

-With files from Ricardo Veneza.