Introduction to Radon

Radon is a radioactive gas that arises from the natural decay of uranium in rocks and soil. It is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. The Western Canadian Prairie provinces have been identified as having significant radon exposure, ranking among the highest-exposed populations globally. Radon infiltrates homes through various entry points, including cracks in walls, floors, foundations, floor drains, and sumps. Cold climates exacerbate the issue since closed windows and doors during prolonged winters allow radon gas to accumulate indoors.

Scientific studies have established radon as a Class 1 carcinogen, as classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). It is the second leading cause of lung cancer in Canada, contributing to approximately 16 percent of lung cancer cases and resulting in an estimated 3,300 deaths annually. Prolonged exposure to elevated levels of radon increases the risk of developing lung cancer.

Research conducted between 2009 and 2011 examined 14,000 homes across Canada, revealing that over 1,500 homes had unacceptable radon levels. Furthermore, investigations have indicated that children may face a higher risk due to their elevated respiratory rates, making them more prone to inhaling radon and experiencing cellular damage. This early damage during childhood provides an extended timeframe for potential cancer cell formation.

It is noteworthy that the co-occurrence of radon exposure and tobacco use significantly amplifies the risk of lung cancer. For instance, lifelong smokers exposed to high levels of radon face a lung cancer risk of 1 in 3, compared to 1 in 10 for smokers without radon exposure. Non-smokers exposed to high radon levels still face a heightened lifetime lung cancer risk of 1 in 20.

Radon poisoning itself does not exhibit immediate or distinctive symptoms. However, the long-term effects of radon exposure can manifest as lung cancer symptoms, including persistent cough, hoarseness, wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, chest pain, frequent respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and loss of appetite.

To mitigate the risks associated with radon, regular radon testing every two years is recommended, particularly in high-risk areas and following major ground disturbances within a 5 km radius of a home. If elevated radon levels are detected, various mitigation techniques can be employed, such as sealing cracks, enhancing ventilation systems, or implementing specialized radon mitigation systems.

Given the scientific evidence and understanding, it is crucial to prioritize radon testing, raise awareness about its hazards, and take preventive measures to minimize radon-related health risks. There are several testing methods available to measure radon levels in homes. These methods provide accurate assessments of radon concentrations and help determine if mitigation measures are necessary. Here are the commonly used testing methods:

  • Short-Term Testing: Short-term tests are the most common and cost-effective method. They typically last between 2 and 7 days and involve placing a small radon detector device in the lowest livable area of the home, such as the basement or ground floor. The device collects data on radon levels, which can then be analyzed to determine the average concentration over the test period.
  • Long-Term Testing: Long-term tests provide a more comprehensive assessment of radon exposure. They typically run for a minimum of 3 months and can extend up to 1 year or more. Long-term testing provides a better representation of the average radon levels throughout different seasons and occupancy patterns. Similar to short-term testing, detectors are placed in the lowest livable area of the home.
  • Continuous Radon Monitoring: Continuous radon monitors (CRMs) are electronic devices that provide real-time measurements of radon levels. They offer immediate results and can capture fluctuations in radon concentrations over time. CRMs are typically used for short-term testing but can also be employed for long-term monitoring. These devices require power and may need to be calibrated periodically.
  • Passive Radon Devices: Passive radon devices, such as charcoal canisters and alpha-track detectors, do not require power or continuous monitoring. They are left in place for a specific period, usually several months, and then sent to a laboratory for analysis. Passive devices are useful for both short-term and long-term testing.

It is crucial to follow the specific instructions provided with the testing device to ensure accurate results. Additionally, it is important to conduct the tests in the lowest livable area of the home, where radon concentrations tend to be higher.

Once the testing period is complete, the devices are sent to a certified laboratory for analysis. The laboratory will provide a report indicating the average radon concentration during the testing period. If radon levels exceed the recommended thresholds, appropriate mitigation measures can be implemented to reduce radon exposure.

It is worth noting that do-it-yourself radon testing kits are available for purchase, but for the most accurate and reliable results, it is recommended to use accredited laboratories or professional radon measurement services.

Regular radon testing every two years is advised, as any significant ground disturbance within a 5 km radius of the home can potentially affect radon levels. By testing for radon, homeowners can identify potential risks and take necessary steps to ensure a safe living environment.