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Canadians Are Playing Radon Roulette

Dec 20, 2016

Seven in 10 living in homes with high radon levels are ignoring dangerous radioactivity, new survey shows


Toronto – More than four years after a nationwide Health Canada study revealed that seven per cent of Canadians live in homes contaminated with high concentrations of radon, a new survey shows that most of those residents have taken no action to reduce radon levels.


Radon is a colourless, odourless, radioactive gas that is generated naturally from the breakdown of small amounts of uranium found everywhere in the soil and rock.  All home and buildings contain some radon; the question is how much and the only way to know is to test. It gets into buildings through cracks in the foundation, floor drains or openings for pipes. 


Breathing high concentrations of radon over a long period increases the risk of developing lung cancer. An estimated 16 per cent of lung cancer cases nationwide are attributed to radon exposure, making it the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the country. At least eight Canadians die every day from radon-induced lung cancer.


“Radon exposure is a serious public health concern in all Canadian communities,” said Dr. Gregory Taylor, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. “November is Radon Action Month in Canada and I truly encourage Canadians to test their homes, workplaces, daycares and schools for radon and to take action to reduce radon levels if they are found to be too high.”


The initial Health Canada Cross-Canada Survey of Radon Concentration in Homes tested 14,000 homes nationwide in 2009-11. It found that while radon levels vary significantly across the country, no areas are “radon-free” and 6.9 per cent of Canadians are living in homes with radon levels above the current Health Canada guideline of 200 Becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3).


In the recent Radon Mitigation Follow-up survey, participants whose homes tested above 200 Bq/m3 were asked whether they had taken any action to reduce their radon levels.


“Just under 30 per cent indicated they had taken some form of action to address the problem,” said Kelley Bush, Health Canada’s Head of Radon Education and Awareness. “The most common reasons given for not mitigating were the perceived cost and the belief that their radon levels were not particularly high.”


“Radon is a silent killer in Canadian homes,” said Mike Holmes Jr., home renovation expert, television personality and prominent radon awareness campaigner. “What’s shocking is that so many people who know they are living with dangerous levels of radon do nothing to fix the problem. The good news is that if a radon test confirms your house is contaminated, fixing the problem is not only easy but also relatively inexpensive.”


The most common and effective mitigation method is Active Soil Depressurisation (ASD). The contractor drills a hole in the basement floor and installs a pipe with a small fan. This draws the radon gas from under the house and vents it into the outside air. Health Canada recommends hiring a professional certified under the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program (C-NRPP) to complete the installation.


The cost depends on the size of the home and the mitigation system required. “The average mitigation installation takes less than a day and can cost between $2,000 and $3,000,” said Holmes Jr. “That’s less than the cost of a new furnace. When it comes to your family’s safety — and your peace of mind — it’s money well spent.”


To help encourage more Canadians to reduce radon levels in their homes, the Canadian Environmental Law Association has written to all federal MPs seeking support for a radon mitigation tax credit. "A federal tax credit is the logical next step in Canada’s otherwise impressive national radon program. It will send a strong signal to Canadians to take this issue more seriously and will help make radon mitigation more affordable," said Kathleen Cooper, Senior Researcher at the Canadian Environmental Law Association.


During Radon Action Month, radon awareness advocates from various sectors – NGOs, charities, health and public health organizations, radon professionals, government, builders, academics and retailers  - who form the national Take Action on Radon network are urging Canadians to test for radon and reduce those levels where necessary. The best time to conduct the recommended long-term (three-month) test is late fall and winter when the house is closed up against the cold.


“All homes and buildings will have radon in them. The question is how much,” said Roshini Kassie of the New Brunswick Lung Association and Coordinator of the national Take Action on Radon network. “Long-term test kits as well as certified measurement and mitigation professionals are available in every province and territory. This November, we really want all Canadians to know that taking action on radon is a very simple thing to protect your health. Test, reduce and breathe easy. ”


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