Radon Gas – The Most Important Health Issue You Have Never Heard Of
Radon gas is the most important health issue that Canadians have never heard of. It is a radioactive gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer after tobacco smoking.
Radon gas enters homes through cracks and other openings where the house is in contact with the ground. Radon can accumulate to high levels particularly in the cold months when homes stay shut and relatively air tight. More than 600,000 households in Canada are exposed to high level of this colourless and odorless radioactive gas.
Health Canada has estimated that more than 3,000 Canadians die each year due to lung cancer caused by radon gas. This number is more than the number of people killed by drunk driving, house fires, drowning combined.
While Canadians are diligent about installing fire detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in their homes, they have not tested their homes for radon gas, compared to the US, UK, Spain, Switzerland, Norway and most of the European countries. A recent survey by the Canadian Cancer Society found that a whooping 96% of Canadian homes have not been tested for radon gas.
Lung cancer caused by radon gas is entirely preventable if homes get tested and action is taken to reduce high radon levels. There are simple ways to test for radon gas and reduce high radon gas levels.
Since radon awareness is really low in Canada, lets look at some myths about radon gas. Here are the top 10 myths about radon gas:
Myth 1: It is difficult and expensive to test for radon gas.
Fact: It is surprisingly easy to test for radon. You could either buy a radon test kit to test your home yourself or hire a certified radon measurement professional. A long term test lasting more than 90 days, is the best choice for a reliable result. Digital radon monitors are also available in the market. However, Health Canada does not recommend their use since they have not been performance-tested yet by the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program (C-NRPP). Radon test kits and radon digital monitors in Canada can cost anywhere between $50-$280 while hiring a professional could cost between $200-$350. Myth 2: Radon does not affect new homes. Old homes may be more affected since they are more likely to have cracks to let in radon gas.
Myth 2: Newer homes are safe from radon gas.
Fact: While older homes are more likely to have cracks, openings and other structural issues that may provide entry points for radon, newer homes are built to be more air tight and may still have openings to let in radon. A new home could also have enough entry points for a radon problem to develop. It is no suprise that high radon gas levels have been found in both new and older homes. The age of a home does not matter. New and older homes have equal chances of having a radon problem.
Myth 3: It is difficult to fix a high radon level in a home.
Fact: There are simple solutions to radon problems in homes. Many Canadian homes have already been fixed and have had their radon gas levels reduced. Reducing radon gas levels (radon mitigation) can be done in a day or two at a cost of about $1,000-$5,000. Find a certified radon mitigation contractor in your area.
Myth 4: If my neighbours home tested low, my home should be low as well.
Fact: Radon gas level in a home is affected by many factors and can vary even within next door neighbours. Even identical duplex units, built by the same builder using the same materials, can still have different radon concentrations. That is why it important that every home is tested.
Myth 5: Radon is not a problem around the area where I live.
Fact: While some areas can be identified on radon maps as ‘low risk’ it does not mean there is no radon gas. Radon exists to some extent in every home. It is still possible that a house in a ‘low risk’ area test high for radon. Health Canada says there are no radon-free areas in Canada. It is still important to test every home.
Myth 6: If radon gas exposure is serious, how come I have not heard anything from the government?
Fact: The nature of the media means we are likely to be exposed to sensational news. If a family is killed in a drunk-driving related crash, they receive much media and drunk driving will be condemned, rightfully. Radon killed 8 people per day in Canada in 2014. This fact will not be prominently featured in the media. The US and most countries in Europe have passed some legislation on radon. For example you cannot open a day care in Florida without a radon test. The Government of Canada, through Health Canada, has spent millions establishing and radon guideline, certification programs for radon professionals, media campaigns and radon outreach. More work is need by all levels of government in Canada to raise more awareness about radon gas.
Myth 7: It’s difficult to sell homes where radon problems have been discovered.
Fact: A radon problem is easy to fix and there are no laws that block the sale of any home that has been tested. In fact, having tested to ensure radon levels are low or having fixed a radon problem can be good selling point for a house.
Myth 8: Radon is not a problem in our province.
Fact: High radon gas levels have been found in every province or territory. The only way to be sure about radon levels in your home is to test.
Myth 9: Radon is naturally occurring so it must be safe.
Fact: Radon gas is naturally produced, but so are mercury and lead. Being naturally occurring does not equate to being safe. When you go to a zoo or nature park, you enjoy seeing the animals, and take measures not to come into contact with the ones that could cause harm to you. Similarly with radon, the key is knowing our health risks and taking action to avoid them.
Myth 10: I ventilate my home well, so I am safe from radon gas
Fact: Ventilation can help a bit with reducing the concentration of radon gas. However, research has shown that ventilation can both reduce and increase radon levels. Ventilation can reduce radon levels moving radon outdoors. Ventilation can also increase radon levels by creating a negative pressure that can cause a suction effect on the soil, thus increasing contribution from radon source.
The bottom line is; testing is the only way to know whether your home has a radon problem.