Radiation and Environmental Biophysics

, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 125–134 | Cite as

A retrospective mortality study of workers exposed to radon in a Brazilian underground coal mine

  • Lene H. S. Veiga
  • Eliana C. S. Amaral
  • Didier Colin
  • Sérgio Koifman
Original Paper


Recently a high radon concentration was detected in the underground coal mine of Figueira, located in the south of Brazil. This coal mine has been operating since 1942 without taking cognizance of the high radon environment. In order to assess possible radon-related health effects on the workers, a retrospective (1979–2002) mortality study of 2,856 Brazilian coal miners was conducted, with 2,024 underground workers potentially exposed to radon daughters. Standard mortality ratio (SMR) analysis hints at lower mortality from all causes for both underground (SMR = 88, 95% CI = 78–98) and surface workers (SMR = 96, 95% CI = 80–114). A high statistically significant SMR for lung cancer mortality was observed only in the underground miners (SMR = 173, 95% CI = 102–292), with a statistically significant trend reflecting the duration of underground work. High statistically significant SMRs were observed for pneumonia as a cause of death between both surface (SMR = 304, 95% CI = 126–730) and underground miners (SMR = 253, 95% CI = 140–457). Because mortality from smoking-related cancers other than lung cancer was not found elevated in underground workers and because diesel equipments were not used in this mine, it can be concluded that the enhanced lung cancer mortality observed for underground miners is associated with exposure to radon and radon daughters, rather than other confounding risk factors.


Radon Radon Concentration Standardize Mortality Ratio Surface Worker Lung Cancer Mortality 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors gratefully acknowledge the mining industry director Dr. Nilo Schneider and all the staffs for their full cooperation, Dr. Jay Lubin from National Cancer Institute (NCI, USA) for all helpful discussions and suggestions about the study, Vicente Melo for his great collaboration in work field and cause of death search. The research assistants Débora O. Garcia, Lorena H. Fernandes and Vânia Lúcia da Conceição are acknowledged for their help in data organization and preparation. The present research was supported by the Pan American Health Organization under contract RC/RG-T/BRA/3194. The present research has been reviewed and approved by the Ethic Committee on Human Subjects Research, National School of Public Health, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, which oversees the confidentiality of the obtained information on human subjects.


  1. 1.
    Lubin JH, Boice JD, Edling C, Hornung RW, Howe GH, Kunz E, Kusiak RA, Morrison HI, Radford EP, Samet JM, Tirmarche M, Woodward A, Yao SX, Pierce DA (1994) Radon and lung cancer risk: a joint analysis of 11 underground miners studies, 1–36. US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Health; NIH Publication No 94–3644, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Armstrong BK, McNulty JC, Levitt LJ, Williams KA, Hobbs MST (1979) Mortality in gold and coal miners in western Australia with special reference to lung cancer. Br J Ind Med 36:199–205PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cocco PL, Carta P, Belli S, Picchiri GF, Flores MV (1994) Mortality of Sardinian lead and zinc miners: 1960–1988. Occup Environ Med 51:674–682PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Hornung RW, Meinhardt TJ (1987) Quantitative risk assessment of lung cancer in US uranium miners. Health Phys 52(4):417–430PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Kusiak RA, Springer J, Ritchie AC, Muller J (1991) Carcinoma of the lung in Ontario gold miners: possible etiological factors. Br J Ind Med 48:808–817PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Morrison HI, Semenciw RM, Mao Y, Wigle DT (1988) Cancer mortality among a group of fluorspar miners exposed to radon progeny. Am J Epidemiol 128:1266–1275PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Radford EP, St Clair Renard KG (1984) Lung cancer in Swedish iron miners exposed to low doses of radon daughters. N Engl J Med 310:1485–1494PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Solli MH, Andersen A, Stranden E, Langärd S (1985) Cancer incidence among workers exposed to radon and thoron daughters at a niobium mine. Scand J Work Environ Health 11:7–13Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Sevc J, Kunz E, Tomasek L, Placek V, Horacek J (1988) Cancer in man after exposure to Rn daughters. Health Phys 54(1):27–46PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Howe GR, Fraser D, Lindsay J, Presnal B, Yu SZ (1983) Cancer mortality (1965–1977) in relation to diesel fume and coal exposure in a cohort of retired railway workers. J Natl Cancer Inst 70:1015–1019PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Meijers JM, Swaen GM, Slangen JJ, Vliet C (1988) Lung cancer among Dutch coal miners: a case-control study. Am J Ind Med 14(5):597–604PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Costello J, Ortmeyer CE, Morgan WKC (1974) Mortality from lung cancer in US coal miners. Am J Publ Health 64:222–229Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Crofton EC (1969) A study of lung cancer and bronchitis mortality in relation to coal mining in Scotland. Br J Prev Soc Med 23:141–144PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Duggan MF, Soilleux PJ, Strong JC, Howell DM (1985) The exposure of United Kingdom miners to radon. Br J Ind Med 27:106–111Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Eicker H, Zimmermeyer G (1981) Radon measurements and valuation in German hard coal underground mines In: Gomez M (ed) Radiation hazards in mining Society of Mining Engineers, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Goldman KP (1965) Mortality of coal miners from carcinoma of the lung. Br J Ind Med 22:72–77PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    James WRL (1955) Primary lung cancer in South Wales coal workers with pneucomoniosis. Br J Ind Med 12:87–94PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Rockette HE (1977) Cause specific mortality of coal miners. J Occup Med 19:795–801PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Ross MH, Murray J (2004) Occupational respiratory disease in mining. Occup Med 54:304–310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    CNEN (2005) Brazilian Nuclear Energy Commission–CNEN-NN-4.01–Requisitos de segurança e proteção radiológica para instalações mínero industriais. Janeiro 2005. Resolução CNEN N.028 17/12/2004Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    DNPM (1997) Brazilian Department of Mineral Production Annual report of mining activities in BrazilGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Pires do Rio MA, Amaral ECS, Fernandes HM, Rochedo ERR (2002) Environmental radiological impact associated with non-uranium mining industries: a proposal for screening criteria. J Environ Radioact 59:1–17CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Fernandes HM, Pires do Rio MA, Rosa Roosevelt, Veiga LHS, Amaral ECS (2002) Overview of the technological enhancement of natural radiation in the Brazilian non-uranium mining industry In: Proceedings of the 2nd international symposium on technologically enhanced natural radiation, IAEA-TECDOC-1271, 307–312Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Lipsztein JL, Dias da Cunha KM, Azeredo AMG, Julião L, Santos MM, Simões Filho FFL (2001) Exposure of workers in mineral processing industries in Brazil. J Environ Radioact 54:189–199CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Daemon RF, Paiva IB, Tavares JRP, Marquezan RG (1982) Jazida de Figueira, aspectos da mineralização de urânio. In: Proc. of Anais do XXXII Congresso Brasileiro de Geologia, Salvador, Bahia, Brasil, vol. 5, 2099–2109 (in Portuguese)Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Veiga LHS, Amaral ECS, Koifman S (2004) High radon exposure in a Brazilian underground coal mine. J Radiol Prot 24(3):295–305CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Kreuzer M, Brachner A, Lehmann F, Martignoni K, Wichmann HE, Grosche B. (2002) Characteristics of the German uranium miners cohorts study. Health Phys 83(1):26–34CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Veiga LHS, Amaral ECS, Koifman S. Logistics and feasibility of conducting a historical cohort study of Brazilian coal miners exposed to radon. J Radiol Prot (in press)Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Checkoway H, Pearce N, Crawford-Brown DJ (1989) Research methods in occupational epidemiology. Oxford University Press, Oxford p 344Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Lin RS, Dischinger PC, Conde J, Farrel KP (1985) Occupational exposure to electromagnetic fields and the occurrence of brain tumors. J Occup Med 27:633–638Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Mattos IE, Sauaia N, Menezes PA (2002) Cancer mortality pattern in Brazilian electrical workers. Cad Saude Publica 18(1):221–233PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Skowronek J, Zemla B (2003) Epidemiology of lung and larynx cancers in coal mines in upper Silesia – preliminary results. Health Phys 85(3):365–370CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Baur X, Latza U (2005) Non-malignant occupational respiratory diseases in Germany in comparison with those of other countries. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 78(7):593–602CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Montes II, Fernandez GR, Reguero J, Mir MAC, Garcia-Ordas E, Martinez JLA, Gonzalez CM (2004) Respiratory disease in a cohort of 2,579 coal miners followed up over a 20-year period. Chest 126(2):622–629CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Naidoo RN, Robins TG, Murray J (2005) Respiratory outcomes among South African coal miners at autopsy. Am J Ind Med 48(3):217–224CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Mcmillan G, Nichols L (2005) Osteoarthritis and meniscus disorders of the knee as occupational disease of miners. Occup Environ Med 62(8):567–575CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    ICRP (1993) Protection against Radon-222 at home and at work. ICRP publication 65. Annals of the International Commission on Radiological ProtectionGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Breslow NE, NE Day (1987) The design and analysis of cohort studies statistical methods in cancer research, vol. 2, IARC Scientific Publication No 82, International Agency for Research on Cancer, LyonGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    McMichael AJ (1976) Standardized mortality ratios and the “healthy worker effect”: scratching beneath the surface. J Occup Med 18:165–168PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    National Research Council (1999) Committee on the biological effects of ionizing radiations health effects of exposure to radon (BEIR VI). National Academy Press, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Enterline PE (1972) A review of mortality data for America coal miners. Ann N Y Acad Sci 200:260–269PubMedCrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Lubin JH, Tomasek L, Edling C, Hornung RW, Howe G, Kunz E, Kusiak RA, Morrison HI, Radford EP, Samet JM, Tirmarche M, Woodward A, Yao SX (1997) Estimating lung cancer mortality from residential radon using data for low exposures of miners. Radiat Res 147:126–134PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lene H. S. Veiga
    • 1
  • Eliana C. S. Amaral
    • 1
    • 4
  • Didier Colin
    • 2
  • Sérgio Koifman
    • 3
  1. 1.Instituto de Radioproteção e DosimetriaRio de JaneiroBrazil
  2. 2.International Agency for Research on CancerLyonFrance
  3. 3.Escola Nacional de Saúde Pública, Fundação Oswaldo CruzRio de JaneiroBrazil
  4. 4.International Atomic Energy AgencyViennaAustria

Personalised recommendations