November is National Radon Action Month in Canada. Many people don’t know that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Listed below are some myths and misconceptions about radon, a radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rock and can become a risk to your and your family’s health.
Myth: If radon is such a big problem, why haven’t I heard about it before?
“People may have heard about radon, but they hear about many things. We choose not to remember because we have other priorities in our life,” says Kelley Bush, Manager with the National Radon Outreach and Engage Program for Health Canada.
Others feel there’s no immediate risk, such as from carbon monoxide, so it’s not really a problem.
“Some don’t think it’s real because it’s invisible, not tangible, not harming a particular group like kids. There’s no evil villain. It makes people’s response to it apathetic.”
Saskatoon realtor and young mother of three Kerri Tucker had heard about it from a seminar presented by the Lung Association of Saskatchewan. She admits that, at first, she didn’t take it seriously, although she thought it was good information to pass on to her clients. In fact, after having a chronic cough attributed to seasonal allergies, she jokingly wondered if it was related.
She was eventually diagnosed with stage-2 radon-induced lung cancer, even though she had never smoked a day in her life. Thankfully, after surgery and chemotherapy, she’s now cancer-free.
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Andrew Arshinoff, lead mitigator and radon specialist from Airdrie, Alberta-based RadonCare, says people quickly dismiss the possible presence of radon, believing that it’s a problem that other people have and doesn’t apply to them.
Myth: Radon will only affect my lungs if I’m a smoker
According to Health Canada, the risk of cancer from radon exposure depends on the level of radon you have been exposed to, how long you have been exposed and your smoking habits. An individual with high radon exposure has a one in 20 chance of getting lung cancer. With smokers, that rises to one in three.
Myth: Radon is difficult to detect
While it’s true that radon is colourless, odourless and tasteless, radon is easy to detect. You can even do it yourself by simply purchasing an Alpha Tracker Radon test kit online for less than $65.
Place it in the lowest living area you use in your home for at least four hours a day, and after three months, send it off using a prepaid label. You will get the results back in a couple of weeks.
Bethany Dick, Health Promotions Coordinator with the Lung Association of Saskatchewan, recommends using these test kits.
“They give you a more accurate reading and whether you should take action. You can also register your test kits online to get automated reminders so you don’t forget and tips on where to properly place them for accurate readings,” she says.
You can also purchase detectors like the Airthings Wave or the newer Airthings Wave Plus. The Airthings Wave Plus has six sensors that monitor radon and VOCs (volatile organic compounds, carbon dioxide, humidity, air pressure and temperature) in real-time. But as daily values for radon can fluctuate wildly, you still need to look at your 90-day average.
Myth: Radon mitigation is difficult to do and is expensive
Mitigation for the average home can be done in a day. RadonCare’s Arshinoff says while some mitigations are a little more challenging than others, he’s never had a radon problem he couldn’t resolve.
The cost of mitigation in Canada typically runs between $2,000 to $4,000.
Myth: If I air out my basement or fix the cracks in my basement floor, I should be fine
While doing so may undoubtedly help, it may not be enough.
“Even without any visible cracks or fissures, radon gas can penetrate through cement (because) it’s porous by nature,” says Health Canada’s Bush.
The first thing to do is test to see the radon level in your home.
According to a Health Canada cross-country survey of 14,000 to 15,000 homes, of those with high radon levels, only 29 per cent took action. Those that took action found that sealing cracks lowered radon by only 13 per cent, while increasing ventilation lowered radon by 25 to 50 per cent. But hiring a professional reduces radon by up to 90 per cent.
Myth: If I tested my house for radon, I shouldn’t have to worry about it
Testing your home is certainly one step in the right direction. But things in your home or you’re your neighbourhood can change over time. Even weather can make short-term changes.
“You should test if there is any significant structural change in your home or significant construction or renovation around your home. Ventilating or even adding an addition (can) change the amount of radon that could enter your home. It can create new pathways for radon to move through the ground because it’s a gas,” Bush adds.
Myth: I have a new, energy-efficient house, so I shouldn’t have a radon problem
In fact, the opposite can be true. The more closed the house is, the easier it is for the radon to concentrate as it has nowhere to escape.
“Because of the way homes are built,” says Bush, “there can always be a gap between floor and wall to allow for climate movement. Also, even without any visible cracks or fissures, radon gas can penetrate through cement as it’s porous by nature.”
In a recent study, Dr. Aaron Goodarzi, Canada Research Chair for Radiation Exposure Disease and a professor at the University of Calgary, offers another concern about newer homes.
Referring to lower-cost homes in newer areas, Goodarzi says, “Radon exposure is disproportionately impacting younger Canadians with children … because those newer houses have higher radon,” while older homes in established neighbourhoods are less accessible to the younger Canadians.
“The younger you are at exposure, the worst the potential outcome.”
The statistics he provides are staggering.
“It’s already bad enough in Canada. (Over 100,000) Canadians since the year 2000 have had lung cancer and never smoked – a fiendish number of people. Of those, 88,000 were predicted to be due to radon.”
If you still think we shouldn’t be concerned about radon, think again.
Visit TakeAction on Radon or EvictRadon.org. And check out the Tackle Radon.ca campaign, a partnership of the Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba lung associations to spread the message about the importance of radon testing and stories from CFL greats.
Greg Gazin, also known as the Gadget Guy and Gadget Greg, is a syndicated veteran tech columnist, communication, leadership and technology speaker, facilitator, blogger, podcaster and author. Reach him at @gadgetgreg or GadgetGuy.ca.
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