Time to test your home for radon concentration
By Darren Lum
Published Nov. 22, 2018
Safeguarding yourself against unhealthy levels of radon exposure will go a long way to decreasing your chance of developing lung cancer says Health Canada, which is raising the issue this November with its national radon awareness program during the National Radon Action Month and Lung Cancer Awareness Month.
When it comes to the cause of lung cancer deaths radon is second only to smoking in Canada.
There is an estimate of 21,000 Canadians, who will die from lung cancer this year and that includes 3,000 to exposure to radon indoors.
is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is found in the rocks,
soil and water, according to the World Health Organization. Radon has no
smell, colour or taste. It originates in the ground and is released
from the natural radioactive decay of uranium. It gets into buildings
through openings between the foundation and the ground such as cracks in
the basement and the sump pump hole.
Health Canada’s radiation specialist Mainul Husain said radon is a naturally occurring gas.
“Wherever there is soil there is radon,” he said.
Husain said November was chosen to raise awareness about radon because this is the time of year when many Canadians are keeping windows and doors closed, which leaves people more susceptible to radon. Another reason is the Lung Association of Canada, which is promoting lung cancer awareness month in November. The association said more Canadians die from lung cancer than breast, colon, ovarian, and prostate cancers combined.
Homeowners are encouraged to
perform a radon test for themselves or hire professional certified under
the C-NRPP (Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program) to conduct a
test to determine the level of radon in a home. For a list of certified
measurement professionals please call 1-855-722-6777 or go to www.c-nrpp.ca.
Canada recommends homeowners who perform their own test with a radon
testing kit conduct testing in the winter months when windows and doors
of a home are predominantly closed to collect an accurate average of the
radon levels in a home for at least three months, or 91 days to a
maximum of one year.
The two main radon
detectors available to consumers are the alpha track detector and the
electret ion chamber. Husain recommends the alpha track detector, which
looks like a conventional hockey puck, but smaller, and was the detector
of choice by Canada when it came to the government study on radon
several years ago. He adds the alpha track is not only smaller and less
bulky than the electret ion chamber, but they are far cheaper (starting
at $30 compared to $80). The alpha is also more effective, as it isn’t
susceptible to “gamma background radiation.”
said it’s important that windows or doors not be opened for more than
two minutes during the testing period to avoid false data readings.
“I know it’s difficult for most of the families especially families with younger children so that’s why we recommend do the long-term testing. Live your normal life and at the end of the three months time get your test results. In fact, the longer you test you’ll get a better result,” he said.
Once the package to either detector is opened, the collection will begin. Be sure when purchasing your detector to check to see if lab results are included in the cost.
of the radon detector is key to getting an accurate result. Ensure it
is in the lowest living space of the house where people spend four hours
per day. He said placing the detectors is key. They shouldn’t be
placed by the sump pump hole, laundry machines, bathrooms, kitchens, or
anywhere there is a opening to the foundation. Another factor to radon
concentration is that is highly soluble in water.
“Any place where there is high water [there will] be high radon,” he said. “We definitely don’t want that situation because that will give a false positive test result.”
If a family doesn’t spend four hours in the basement then he recommends the detector be placed on the main floor.
danger related to radon is when exposure reaches high concentrations.
The strange thing with radon is how levels can vary from home to home
that are located next to each other.
Reducing levels of radon can be as simple as increasing ventilation in the basement to enable an exchange of air to sealing cracks and openings in basement floors, walls, around pipes and drains. There are other options that can be performed by contractors certified under the C-NRPP.
He adds repairs start with fixing cracks in the foundation and can include the installation of a mitigation system, which can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000. He recommends professional testing for large commercial buildings such as office buildings. A typical fee for a professional tester is close to $300.
New homeowners in Ontario can be eligible for a financial break when it comes to repairs.
less than seven years old are eligible to claim $15,000 for any
radon-related repairs under the Tarion warranty, which is provided by
the builder and administered by Tarion. An approved radon testing kit
with results conducted by a certified lab is required (or a professional
conduct the test) to make a claim. The website (www.tarion.com)
said the Tarion Warranty Corporation was created in 1976 to serve as
the regulator of new home builders and administer the new home warranty
plan to protect new home buyers in Ontario.
for radon is recommended following two years after a mitigation system
is installed and then five years after that. A mitigation system is used
to create an active soil depressurization by moving air through a pipe
from the foundation to the outside through the wall of the home to the
outside by a fan installed to run constantly.
“It’s a preemptive measure. Before radon enters your home it will be thrown out of your house by your system,” Husain said.
said there isn’t specific guidelines for frequency of radon testing.
Ultimately, it’s up to the homeowner, but he recommends a test be
performed every four or five years. Any structural changes performed to a
building such as renovations, whether that includes a new furnace or
windows should prompt a radon test.
The risk to home owners and their families is related to the levels of radon, the length of time one is exposed and whether you also smoke. The government of Canada web page said radon is measured in becquerels per cubic metre. For instance 1 Bq = 1 radioactive disintegration per second. One example, a household with a radon level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre, or Bq/m3, where a smoker who has 70 years of exposure has a 17 per cent risk of developing lung cancer compared to two per cent for a non-smoker.
recommends a level of 200 Bq/m3, which Husain said is a “compromise” and
falls between the recommended levels of 100 Bq/m3 and the higher limit
of 300 Bq/m3, as outlined by the World Health Organization. From the WHO
website, it said “If this level [of 100 Bq/m3] cannot be implemented
under the prevailing country-specific conditions, WHO recommends that
the reference level should not exceed 300 Bq/m3.” The US recommended
level is 150.
Husain said anyone
interested in lowering radon levels by leaving windows open cannot
mitigate the continuous exposure like an active system can. However an
HVAC system can help homes with “low to moderate” levels, but it has
limitations. He said the maximum rating in which it will help is if the
radon concentration is 400 Bq/m3. He referred to studies that indicated
an HVAC system will help to reduce radon by 50 per cent.
asked if a drafty old house is less prone to high levels of radon
concentration, Husain said that’s likely the case. He referred to a
scientific Calgary study from last year, which came to the conclusion
that “newer homes are worse than older homes for radon because the newer
homes are built so air tight.” Husain emphasized in Health Canada’s
studies on radon there wasn’t a direct correlation made to the age of
the house. Radon levels are related to the condition of the house,
whether there were numerous cracks in the foundation, which he calls
“the main entry point for radon.”
In addition to Health Canada’s web page for more information see takeactiononradon.ca. There is a free online course to know more about machealth.ca/programs/radon.