Published August 29, 2012 | 6:44 pm
Ottawa: Based on new research from Health Canada, the Lung Association is urging Canadians all across the country to have their homes tested for dangerous gas radon.
Radon is known to be the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is a colourless, odourless radioactive gas that can seep into homes. A new federal government survey of 14,000 homes indicated that radon is present in almost twice as many Canadian houses as previously estimated.
“Exposure to indoor radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after tobacco smoking,” said Mary-Pat Shaw, acting president and CEO of the Canadian Lung Association. “The new analysis completed by Health Canada tells us that the risk from radon is significantly greater than previously thought.”
Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. Radon gas can get into houses through normal cracks in the foundation, walls or other small openings in the floor and can build up to dangerous levels, especially when homes are closed up during the winter months. Radon levels can vary from house to house so the only way to know for sure if a home has higher levels of radon is to test it.
The recent Health Canada survey indicates that 7 per cent of Canadian homes have levels of radon above 200 Becquerels per cubic metre of air (Bq/m3) – up from earlier estimates of 3-5 per cent. Health Canada recommends taking action to reduce radon when levels exceed 200 Bq/m3. Some regions of the country had much higher estimates of affected homes, including Manitoba (19.4%), New Brunswick (20.6%) and Yukon (19.6%).
Based on the new survey Health Canada scientists have estimated that radon exposure causes the deaths of approximately 3,200 Canadians every year – 16 per cent of all lung cancer deaths. Previous estimates based on testing from the 1970s indicated that 10 per cent of lung cancer deaths were related to indoor exposure to radon.
“Fortunately these deaths are preventable – if all Canadian homeowners test their houses for radon and take action if radon levels are high,” said Ms. Shaw. “Canadians should test for radon no matter where they live. Although some provinces have higher than average radon levels, levels of this dangerous gas can vary from house to house, even within the same neighbourhood”.
Testing for radon is easy to do – inexpensive, simple to use radon testing kits can be purchased from home improvement retailers or online from some provincial Lung Associations.
To allow for a more accurate reading of indoor radon levels, The Lung Association recommends using long-term radon test kits measuring levels for a minimum of three months, as well as testing during the colder months of the year when homes have less air circulation.
If high radon levels are found, it is generally not very difficult or expensive to re mediate a home to bring radon down to safer levels. The most effective radon reduction method (called “active sub-slab depressurization”) is a piping system with a small fan that draws radon from the ground under the home to the outside, preventing it from getting inside. The cost usually ranges from $1,500 to $3,000.
It is important to note that exposure to radon gas is even more dangerous for people who smoke: people who smoke and are also exposed to high radon levels have a one in three chance of dying from lung cancer (versus a one in 20 risk for people who are exposed to radon but do not smoke).