Trent Ernst, Editor
Quick: what’s the second-leading cause of lung cancer?
We all know that smoking is the leading cause, but unless you’re really smart or really quick with the Google, you probably don’t know that radon gas exposure is the second-leading cause of lung cancer.
Radon comes from the breakdown of uranium in soils and rocks that occurs naturally in the environment. Health Canada advises that anything over 200 becquerels per cubic metre is too high.
Radon is not detectable by sight, smell, or taste.
Health Canada estimates that 16 percent of lung cancer deaths in Canada are caused by radon and that an estimated 500,000 Canadians are living in homes that exceed federal guidelines for radon gas exposure.
Some amount of radon gas can be found in almost all homes that are in contact with the ground. Radon can seep into a home through dirt floors, cracks in foundation walls and floors, gaps around pipes and drains and through porous concrete.
In the summer, people toss open their windows, allowing the air to circulate. But in the winter? “We are all closing our windows and spending more time indoors, which puts us at an increased risk of radon exposure,” says Kerensa Medhurst, Health Promotion Coordinator, Canadian Cancer Society, BC and Yukon.
So, what’s the average homeowner, who couldn’t tell a Becquerel from a Sievert, to do? “Many homeowners spend some time in the fall preparing their homes for the upcoming seasons so we’re asking those individuals to add radon testing to their to-do lists,” says Medhurst.
Radon testing kits can be found in town at Tru Hardware, through Northern Health, the BC Lung Association or a radon testing professional. Most test kits cost approximately $30 and include a lab analysis of the results.
“There are no immediate symptoms related to radon exposure and no known health effects, other than lung cancer,” adds Medhurst. “There are also no medical tests available to see if you have been exposed to radon, which is why testing your home to evaluate radon levels is so important. Everyone should be doing this.”
If radon levels are higher than 200 Bg/m3, says Medhurst, you should find a certified radon mitigation contractor, and steps should be taken to reduce exposure.
While it will vary from case to case, some common solutions to high levels of radon include: increasing ventilation, sealing cracks in foundations, and even renovating basement floors. Another option is called “active soil depressurization.” This involves installing a pipe through the floor of the foundation, which is connected to the outside. A fan is attached to the pipe, which draws radon from under the home before it gets into the house.
Houses built after 2010 have to live up to new codes to protect against radon, but most houses in Tumbler Ridge are at risk. The only way to know if you have a radon problem is to test.
If you want to know more about radon and lung cancer, visit the Canadian Cancer Society website at cancer.ca.