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Radon Gas Portrayal in the Canadian Print Media: A Mixed Methods Approach

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Radon is a carcinogenic gas that is responsible for over 3,000 lungs cancer deaths in Canada each year. It is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless radioactive gas that naturally emanates from soil and bedrock, and can build up to unsafe levels within homes and buildings. In 2006 the Canadian federal government lowered the national radon action level guideline from 800 Bq/m3 to 200 Bq/m3 . This means that Health Canada currently recommends that homeowners with radon concentrations above 200 Bq/m3 take remedial actions to reduce the concentration of radon in their homes. Despite the wellestablished health risks of radon exposure, less than 50% of Canadians are aware of radon and less than 5% have tested their homes for radon in the past 10 years. Media coverage is a key information channel for communicating important health risks, such as radon gas, to the Canadian public. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the scope and nature of Canadian newspaper coverage of radon gas and its risks to human health before and after the new 200 Bq/m3 regulations were implemented. Headlines were collected from 490 newspaper articles on radon published in Canada between Jan. 2003 and Jan 2014. Content analysis was performed on article headlines using a qualitative frame to evaluate the nature of radon portrayal. Quantitative methods were used to examine the location, timing and other aspects of media coverage. The analysis indicated that media coverage of radon was a response to governmental regulation changes and research announcements. Headline messaging was mixed and conflicting with no clear authority or leadership portrayed. Radon coverage in the media was not higher in provinces with greater radon exposure. Coverage was neither correlated with public awareness nor understanding of radon health. The results show that media messaging needs to be clarified so that the idea of radon as a health risk that people should test for their homes is being communicated to the public. A clear leader in radon needs to be identified within the public health community to represent a clear, trusted authority and source of information on radon for the public.
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