In late January, the BC Lung Association released results of Canada’s largest-ever community-wide home radon testing project, conducted in Castlegar and Prince George, two of B.C.’s radon hot spots. In more than half the Castlegar homes tested, and one-third in Prince George, radon concentrations exceeded Health Canada’s exposure guideline.
What is Radon?
 
Radon is a radioactive gas found naturally in the environment. It is produced by the decay of uranium found in soil, rock or water. Radon is invisible, odorless and tasteless and emits ionizing radiation. As a gas, radon can move freely through the soil enabling it to escape to the atmosphere or seep into buildings. When radon escapes from the bedrock into the outdoor air, it is diluted to such low concentrations that it poses a negligible threat to health. However, if a building is built over bedrock or soil that contains uranium, radon gas can be released into the building through cracks in foundation walls and floors, or gaps around pipes and cables.
 
When radon is confined to enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces, it can accumulate to high levels. Radon levels are generally highest in basements and crawl spaces because these areas are nearest to the source and are usually poorly ventilated. In the open air, the amount of radon gas is very small and does not pose a health risk.
The good news is that in most cases it’s fairly easy to lower indoor radon concentrations. Certified professionals can help identify how radon is entering the building, seal cracks and install specialized venting. This typically costs between $500 and $3,000. (A number of organizations, including the David Suzuki Foundation, have recommended a tax credit to make radon mitigation more affordable).
 
As BC Lung Association CEO Scott McDonald said recently, “The problem is too few British Columbians know what radon is, where it comes from and how to fix a problem in your home if you have one.”
 
Many British Columbians—and Canadians— haven’t thought about testing radon levels in their homes. But it’s never too late and it's easy to start a test now!
Did you know?

All homes have some level of radon - the only way to know how much is to test.
 
Assure Property Solutions can test for Radon in a variety of ways and methods, depending on the the situation. Our lab will calculate your average radon concentration. Assure's certified radon professionals also sell electronic continuous radon monitors, which show weekly and monthly average concentrations on a digital display.
 
Indoor radon levels can vary wildly from day to day or even hour to hour, as well as seasonally. Concentrations are generally higher in winter and at night, when windows and doors are closed. Health Canada recommends running a radon test over a minimum of three months, during fall or winter. The average concentration detected over a three-month test can be used to determine if a home’s radon concentration exceeds the Canadian guideline level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre. (A becquerel, or Bq, is a standard measure of radioactivity named after French physicist Henri Becquerel).

Mike Holmes on Radon

Q. How can radon affect my health?
 
Answer:
Radon gas and radon progeny in the air can be breathed into the lungs where they breakdown further and emit "alpha particles". Alpha particles release small bursts of energy which are absorbed by nearby lung tissue. This results in lung cell death or damage. When lung cells are damaged, they have the potential to result in cancer when they reproduce.
 
The only known health risk associated with exposure to high levels of radon in indoor air is an increased lifetime risk of developing lung cancer. The risk from radon exposure is long term and depends on the level of radon, how long a person is exposed and their smoking habits. If you are a smoker and are exposed to elevated levels of radon your risk of developing lung cancer increases significantly.
 
On average, 16% of lung cancer deaths are attributable to radon exposure in Canada. In 2006, an estimated 1,900 lung cancer deaths in Canada were due to radon exposure. Radon is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking.
 
Other than lung cancer, there is no evidence that radon exposure causes other harmful health effects such as any other form of cancer, respiratory diseases such as asthma, or symptoms such as persistent coughing or headaches.
Q. Should Canadians be concerned about the WHO proposal?
 
Answer:
The Government of Canada is keenly aware of the important link between health and the environment, and through initiatives such as the Clean Air Agenda, is developing and implementing an effective radon program. This program is designed to make tangible improvements in the health of Canadians by reducing the incidence of lung cancer. Health Canada encourages Canadians to test their houses for radon and to take steps to reduce the radon levels if they are above the Canadian guideline of 200 Bq/m³.

Radon - Things You Should Know

Q. I am a smoker. Does radon affect me more than a non-smoker?
 
Answer:
Yes. The risk from radon exposure for a smoker (including those exposed to second hand smoke) is much greater than for a non-smoker. For example, if you are a lifelong smoker but are not exposed to radon, your risk of getting lung cancer is one in ten. If you add exposure to a high level of radon, your risk becomes one in three. On the other hand, if you are a non-smoker, your lifetime lung cancer risk at the same high radon level is only one in twenty.
 
Q. Are children more at risk from radon than adults?
 
Answer:
Children have been reported to be at greater risk than adults for certain types of radiation exposure, but there is currently no conclusive data on whether children are at greater risk than adults from radon.
 
Q. What about drinking water that contains radon?
 
Answer:
Research has shown that drinking water that contains radon is far less harmful than breathing radon. When the ground produces radon, it can dissolve and accumulate in water from underground sources, such as wells. When water that contains radon is agitated when used for daily household requirements radon gas escapes from the water and goes into the air. The health risk is not from ingestion but from radon inhalation.
 
Q. Where in Canada are radon levels the highest?
 
Answer:
Radon concentrations differ greatly throughout Canada but are usually higher in areas where there is a high concentration of uranium in underlying rock and soil. Radon is found in almost every house, but concentration levels will vary from one house to another, even if they are similar and next door to each other.
In 2012 Health Canada released a report showing that 6.9 per cent of Canadians are living in homes with radon levels above the current Canadian guidelines of 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3)
Is British Columbia a Concern?
 
While some areas, like Castlegar and Prince George, are prone to high concentrations of indoor radon, Health Canada emphasizes that no areas of the country are radon-free. A 2012 Health Canada study indicates that 6.9 percent of Canadians live in homes with radon levels above the guideline but, “The only way to know if a home has an elevated level of radon is to test, regardless of location.” Carcinogen research project Carex Canada has an online map illustrating the percentage of home radon measurements across Canada above the Health Canada guideline.

Even if your home tests below Health Canada’s guideline level, you might want to explore mitigation options. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a lower guideline of 148 Bq/m3 and the World Health Organization recommends 100 Bq/m3. There is no safe level of radon exposure, and the risk of lung cancer increases by 16 percent for every 100 Bq/m3 increase in lifetime average radon concentration.
 
Governments should also test radon levels in public buildings, like schools and hospitals, as recommended in the David Suzuki Foundation’s 2007 report, 

         Radon: The Unfamiliar Killer.
 
Q. What is the Canadian guideline for radon in indoor air?
 
Answer:
The Canadian guideline for radon in indoor air provides Canadians with guidance on when remedial action should be taken to reduce radon levels. The Canadian Guideline is as follows:
 
"Remedial measures should be undertaken in a dwelling whenever the average annual radon concentration exceeds 200 becquerels per cubic metre (200 Bq/m³) in the normal occupancy area. The higher the radon concentration, the sooner remedial measures should be undertaken. When remedial action is taken, the radon levels should be reduced to a value as low as practicable. The construction of new dwellings should employ techniques that will minimize radon entry and will facilitate post-construction radon removal, should this subsequently prove necessary."
 
 
Q. Why did Health Canada announced in June 2007 a lowering of the guidelines for acceptable levels of radon in the house from 800 to 200 Bq/m³?
 
Answer:
Health Canada's previous guideline had been in place since 1988. The original guideline was based on estimates of lung cancer risk from studies of underground uranium miners exposed to very high levels of radon. Uncertainty existed with the projection of lung cancer risk from occupational radon exposure to the public for residential exposures.
 
Recent scientific studies have conclusively linked the risk of developing lung cancer to levels of radon found in some houses. These studies prompted the federal government to collaborate with provincial and territorial
 
governments to review the federal radon guidelines in 2005. Following a risk assessment and a public consultation, the revised guideline was approved by the Federal Provincial Territorial Radiation Protection Committee in October 2006. Our new guideline of 200 Bq/m³ makes Canada's guidelines lower than or equal to most every other major industrialized country.
 
Q. What is Health Canada's reaction to the World Health Organization's (WHO) proposal for radon reference levels to be set at 100 Bq/m³?
 
Answer:
Canada's radon guideline is well within the range recommended by the WHO. The WHO's new annual recommended reference level is 100 Bq/m³, with an upper limit that should not exceed 300 Bq/ m³. Health Canada, in consultation with the Federal Provincial Territorial Radiation Protection Committee (FPTRPC) set a guideline (also known as a reference level) of 200 Bq/m³ for annual radon concentrations.
Health Canada and the FPTRPC have reviewed and discussed the WHO's recommendations and at this time have decided not to lower the Canadian radon guideline as it falls within the recommended range of 100 to 300 Bq/ m³.
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