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Check your homes for radon gas, experts say

By Courtney Bell [1]

BELLEVILLE – The local offices of the Canadian Cancer Society and the Lung Association are trying to spread the word about the harmful affects of radon gas.

November is Radon Action Month in Canada, featuring campaigns to make people aware of this health risk in their homes. Canadians are encouraged to test their homes for radon gas to prevent exposure.

Radon is a radioactive gas formed by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. It can be very dangerous and hard to detect because it is colourless, odourless and tasteless.

When radon gas enters an enclosed space it can accumulate in high concentrations and become a health risk. The gas seeps into homes from the soil and can get through dirt floors, cracks in foundation, drains and gaps around pipes.

“It’s the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer overall, ” Connie Choy, air-quality co-ordinator at the Ontario office of the Lung Association, told QNet News Wednesday. “It causes about 16 per cent of lung-cancer cases in Canada, so that’s about 3,200 lung-cancer deaths each year (that) are linked to radon … (So) that is why we want to educate people about finding out about the issue and getting their homes tested to protect themselves and their families.”

This time of year is the best to test for radon gas because it’s when homes and other buildings are closed up for the most part, Choy said. This allows any radon that may be present to build up to a higher level, which means more accurate readings.

Choy recommends that homeowners do long-term testing – over a period of at least three months – following Health Canada’s guidelines [2].

Radon can affect anyone, but you are at higher risk if you are a smoker or a child. Smokers are already more prone to developing lung cancer, so exposure to high concentrations of radon gas increases the risk, according to Health Canada.

Children are more at risk because they breathe faster and more often than adults, taking in more air with every breath, Choy said.

Amy Doyle, manager of the Belleville office of the cancer society, is also making it her mission in the upcoming month to give people more information about the danger of radon gas in the home. Doyle suggests that people take it upon themselves to test for radon, and gave suggestions on how to do it.

“You can test two ways,” she explained. “You can buy a do-it-yourself kit – you can get that at any home-improvement retailer – and from what I understand the test is best when it is (done) over a three-month time frame. You can also hire a professional to measure the radon in your home – but really, a do-it-yourself kit I think is around $50 and it’s available locally at hardware stores.”

Her office also urges people to speak to government officials and urge the passage of Bill 11, the Radon Awareness and Prevention Act [3]. Bill 11 would force the Ontario government to put laws and codes into place for home testing for radon, and would also include testing for provincial buildings such as schools, government buildings and hospitals.

Radon levels are usually higher in areas where there is a high concentration of uranium. Radon is found in almost every house, but the levels of concentration can differ from household to household, even if the houses are right next door to one another, according to Health Canada.

“One in 20 homes in Ontario contains dangerous levels of radon gas, but only five per cent of people in Ontario have had their home tested for radon,” Doyle said. “So that’s really why we are pushing this month. We really want to make people aware.”

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