Radon exposure at home puts citizens at risk of lung cancer
More citizens are exposed to lung cancer-causing substances than they realize.
WATERLOO REGION — More citizens are exposed to lung cancer-causing substances than they realize.
Although the disease is commonly associated to smoking, 16 per cent of lung cancer deaths are linked to another cause — radon exposure.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is released from the earth. In the open air it’s not harmful but for approximately seven per cent of Canadian households, radon levels are unsafe.
Health Canada and Waterloo Region Public Health are recommending all homeowners test the air in their homes for radon.
“Recent evidence has made us more aware of the potential risk in a household setting,” said Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, associate medical officer of health in Waterloo Region.
Previously, she said the concern of radon exposure was focused on work environments such as mines, however research is now showing high levels of the substance can be found in houses too.
Long-term exposure at home can have damaging affects on the body.
Radon particles can get trapped deep in the lungs when inhaled and can cause tissue damage that leads to lung cancer over time.
One in twenty people exposed to high levels of radon over a long term period are at risk of developing lung cancer.
For smokers, the risk is even greater. Smokers exposed to high levels of radon have a one in three risk.
The safe benchmark for radon levels is set at 200 Bq/m³ by Health Canada. Levels exceeding that level require remediation to reduce the amount of radon entering the home.
Radon enters the home through openings between the home and ground such as open floor drains, cracks in the foundation, exposed soil or voids in concrete block walls.
There are no definite factors that put a home at greater or less risk either.
“You can’t really rely on factors like geography or age of a home to say I should be worried or I’m going to be OK,” Wang said, which is why everyone should test their homes.
The test kits are sold at some hardware stores such as Home Depot or Home Hardware. Stock can vary between stores, so consumers should call ahead. Test kits can also be purchased online from companies specializing home improvement or radiation safety.
The duration of tests vary from days to months — however Wang recommended that consumers opt for tests with a minimum three-month duration for the most accurate results.
Tests can be done during any time of the year, however are best done in the cooler months when windows and doors are kept closed and are less likely to affect results. A radon detector is commonly left on the lowest lived-in level of a home where the radon concentration would be at the greatest risk.
When a test is complete, the detector used in the test is mailed to a lab for the results to be examined. If results show radon levels above the safe benchmark, homeowners should begin recourse to decrease those levels.
To assess and close off radon entry routes into the home and improve ventilation, Wang said homeowners should hire contractors certified in radon remediation. A link listing certified professionals can be found through the Public Health website.
Remediation can cost anywhere between $500 and $3,000.
Because the testing and remediation for radon remain a recommendation, landlords are encouraged but not required to take action on their properties.
This means tenants who either want the testing completed or discover high levels of radon in their homes cannot force their landlords to mitigate the problem.
Wang could not comment on potential changes in legislation but said the current focus for health officials is informing the public about radon.
“What we’re hoping to do now is raise awareness about the preventive measures people can do and encourage people to do the testing,” Wang said.
Test your home
Radon levels are considered safe to a maximum of 200 Bq/m³.
About seven per cent of Canadian homes have levels about the safe guideline.
Radon levels between 200 and 600 Bq/m³ should be remediated within two years.
Radon levels above 600 Bq/m³ should be remediated within one year.
About 16 per cent of lung cancers in Canada are related to radon exposure.
Test kits can be purchased at some hardware stores and cost $25 to $170.
Long term tests at a minimum of three months are recommended.
Remediation must be done by a certified contractor and costs between $500 and $3,000.
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