Blog: Collaborating on Carcinogens: our CELA-CAREX Canada Working Group

Blog posted by Joanne Telfer, Knowledge Translation Specialist, CAREX Canada and Kathleen Cooper, Senior Researcher, CELA

February 18, 2021

To mark World Cancer Day on February 4th, some powerful lyrics in this video sing out “we’re all in this together.” So true. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t either had cancer or been deeply touched by it among friends and other loved ones.

To also mark this day, allow us to introduce a valuable collaboration between CELA and CAREX Canada. Members of our two organizations have met regularly since 2017 to share our respective policy and research information and expertise on carcinogens. It is a good fit. For many years at CELA, we have sought diverse policy reforms to prevent or reduce exposure to carcinogens – in the environment and workplaces.

CAREX Canada (CARcinogen EXposure) provides a body of knowledge about environmental and occupational exposures to known, probable, and possible carcinogens (i.e., those in class 1, 2A and 2B respectively, within the International Agency for Research on Cancer – IARC categorization system). Their goal is to help reduce Canadians’ risk of cancer by supporting organizations in prioritizing exposures and in developing targeted exposure reduction policies and programs.

CAREX Canada offers evidence-based resources on Canadians’ exposures carcinogens. They have developed profiles for 80 known or suspected carcinogenic agents, such as asbestos, radon, arsenic, outdoor air pollution, and more. The profiles detail the health effects, main uses, regulations, and occupational and environmental exposure estimates for the Canadian population.

They also offer a monthly newsletter called Carcinogens in the News, which features the latest media articles, government reports, and academic literature related to the carcinogens that Canadians may be exposed to. Visit their website to subscribe to this newsletter and explore their wealth of knowledge on carcinogens.

Below, we highlight some of our collaborative efforts to address exposure to two known carcinogens: radon and asbestos.


Radon is a known carcinogen causing over 3,000 deaths per year in Canada from radon-induced lung cancer, which is why both CELA and CAREX Canada prioritize it. CELA has twice reviewed law and policy across Canada pertaining to radon, a broad topic given that high levels of radon can be found in any building type and that jurisdiction often rests at the provincial/territorial level. The most recent legal and policy review, published in 2018, was a joint effort between CELA and CAREX Canada that was funded by Health Canada.

This research involved an environmental scan of existing radon policy initiatives across Canada alongside a scan of best practices in several European countries. Our report outlined recommendations that sought a bolder National Radon Program, in particular a federal tax credit or grant program, as the logical next step for the federal government. Such a program would send a strong signal that radon research, education, testing and mitigation needs to be taken more seriously, including the financial barriers to homeowners in mitigating if high levels of radon are found in buildings. Other recommendations targeted numerous areas of provincial law and policy.

Our collaborative expertise on this project enables many others to better understand barriers and opportunities to address radon. For example, our report has informed the leading-edge work of Take Action on Radon, a national initiative to bring together radon stakeholders and raise awareness about radon, led by the Canadian Cancer Society, CARST and CAREX Canada.


As members of the Asbestos Free Canada Network, CAREX Canada and CELA collaborate with various organizations to help prevent exposures to asbestos. The Network advocated for the Federal Government of Canada’s asbestos ban, which came into force in 2018.

CAREX Canada’s estimates of exposure, which show that 152,000 Canadians are occupationally exposed to asbestos, were used to inform the development of the national ban on asbestos. CAREX Canada’s expertise and evidence has long supported related advocacy work by CELA and other Canadian organizations. 

The Canadian regulations prohibit the import, sale, use, and manufacturing of asbestos and products containing asbestos. However, the vast majority of exposure that occurs today is due to contact with older asbestos-containing products and materials. CAREX Canada estimates show that many of the workers still exposed to asbestos work in the construction industry, where exposure can occur when renovating and refurbishing old buildings. There are also exposure concerns around asbestos removal and waste management.

Beyond the national ban, there are many opportunities to further protect Canadians from asbestos exposure, such as strengthening occupational and environmental exposure limits, developing a registry of buildings containing asbestos, and encouraging the safe management and removal of asbestos from the natural and built environment. CAREX Canada and CELA are supporting efforts to pursue these protections, with the goal of reducing exposures to asbestos in Canada and ultimately, reducing Canadians’ risk of cancer.