Emily Li, left, with classmate Amrit Parmar, helped develop a pet-focused national public awareness campaign on the importance of radon testing.

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Uncovering The Bark Side of Radon

August 27, 2019
Emily Li and her dog Toby.

By Clement Woo

When Emily Li enrolled in Health Communication (HSCI 412) last spring, little did she know that a class project would evolve into a summer job leading a national public awareness campaign on the importance of radon testing.

In Anne-Marie Nicol’s HSCI 412 class, Li and her classmates Jonathan Ng, Clarissa Montgomery, Nazanin Mosavi Jarrahi and Amrit Parmar were tasked to come up with an idea to encourage more radon testing in people’s homes.

Radon is a radioactive, invisible gas that is one of the leading causes of lung cancer. The students targeted pet-owners as many pets are constantly sniffing floors and spend a lot of time close to the ground, which puts them at higher risk for radon-induced lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

“Our group capitalized on the ‘cuteness’ appeal of pets as a motivator for owners to start testing their homes,” says Li.

As a result, the students came up with an idea called The Bark Side of Radon, which included a logo designed by Li, along with the creation of dog leashes, posters, brochures and a social media campaign.

When presenting their project, the group's work was so compelling that industry partner Radon Environmental supported their idea immediately and Li was hired as a campaign coordinator to develop the project.

Over the summer, she conducted literature reviews of various academic articles linking animal lung cancer incidence to indoor radon exposures. Research packages which included radon and lung cancer evidence were sent to veterinary clinics, associations and non-profit animal advocacy organizations, encouraging them to support animal wellness through radon testing.

In preparation for the campaign’s launch, Li also collated a comprehensive spreadsheet of potential contacts and created social media content for the campaign’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram channels.

She is now motivated to spread awareness of the effects of radon on both animal and human health to her family and friends as well.

“A lot of people are unaware of how terrifying the long-term consequences of radon exposure can be” says Li. “After working on this campaign, I’m definitely thinking more about the risk of radon on my own dog and am more inclined to get my home tested.”

Through Nicol’s HSCI 412 class, students gain wide-ranging knowledge of health communication in a variety of contexts, including developing a campaign for industry stakeholders that helps address a real-world health communication problem.

“Working with Radon Environmental has allowed me to apply the health communication concepts I’ve learned in the classroom to real life situations,” says Li.

“I’ve also gained valuable insight on how health promotion campaigns are developed and catered towards target groups and audiences. It’s been an amazing experience working in a multidisciplinary team and seeing my HSCI 412 group’s hard work come to life.”

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