Radon's impact on your HEALTH
WHAT IS RADON?
Radon is a radioactive gas produced naturally by the decay of uranium in the earth’s crust. It exists all over the world, although its production and, consequently, its concentration are not uniform. Because radon is odourless, colourless and tasteless, it cannot be detected by the senses.
RADON IN YOUR HOME?
Whether your house is new or old, radon tends to accumulate in the lower and less ventilated rooms, like the basement for example, where it can reach high concentrations.
The gas can seep into the house in a variety of places:
- foundation wall cracks;
- between floor tiles;
- packed earth floors;
- construction seams;
- gaps around waste pipes (e.g. pipe couplings), gaps around service pipes and support posts;
- crawl spaces, drains and sumps.
The only way to know if you have a radon problem in your home is to measure its concentration.
ITS HEALTH IMPACT
The only known risk is long-term development of lung cancer. The level of risk depends on the concentration of radon as well as the number of years of exposure. It is estimated that 10% of all lung-cancer-related deaths in Quebec are linked to radon exposure.
The 2nd cause of lung cancer after smoking
Smokers run a much greater risk than non-smokers (including second-hand smoke). In fact, individuals who are exposed to both tobacco smoke and high levels of radon over an extended period of time are more likely to develop lung cancer. The effect is more than additive. Incidentally, 60% of radon-related lung cancer deaths occur among smokers while 30% occur among former smokers. For example, if you smoke your entire life and are exposed to 800 Bq/m3 of radon, your risk of developing cancer is 1 in 3.
APPROXIMATELY 10% OF ALL RADON-RELATED LUNG CANCER DEATHS OCCUR AMONG NON-SMOKERS.
Smokers are not the only ones at risk. Among non-smokers, exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer.
PROTECT YOUR FAMILY, MEASURE RADON LEVELS IN YOUR HOME
The only way to know if you have a radon problem in your home is to measure its levels. The marketplace offers a number of measuring devices and services. Testing is safe, simple and relatively inexpensive (approximately $75). Various devices allow you to measure radon concentrations over short periods while others do so over several months.
Health Canada recommends measuring radon in your home for at least three (3) months, ideally in winter. The test must be performed in a room occupied more than four (4) hours a day and located on the lowest level, e.g. basement bedroom or recreation room.
If the annual average exceeds 200 becquerels per cubic meter of air (200Bq/m3 ), corrective measures should be taken. (A becquerel is a unit of radioactivity equal to one disintegration per second).
BEAR IN MIND THAT YOU SHOULD NOT RELY ON NEIGHBOURHOOD OR NEXT-DOOR RESULTS, AS THESE MAY VARY SIGNIFICANTLY FROM ONE HOME TO THE NEXT.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO REDUCE RADON LEVELS IN YOUR HOME?
As each house is unique, a diagnostic test will have to be performed by a qualified contractor who will recommend one or several mitigation techniques. In most cases, these measures are simple and relatively inexpensive. For example:
- depressurize the gases under the concrete slab by installing small pumps that will suck out and exhaust the radon outside;
- install a balanced ventilation system;
- seal all cracks and holes in the foundation walls and floors, and gaps around pipes and drains;
- make sure the floor drain always contains water.
The work should be done by an experienced contractor who has received proper training from a certified organization. Expect the work to cost anywhere from $800 to $2,500.
For new homes
When a new home is being built, it is generally impossible to predict the levels of radon it will contain. It is therefore simpler and less expensive to adopt preventive measures during construction than to take steps later on. For example, to reduce radon infiltration routes, you can:
- use highly resistant concrete;
- add plasticizer to the concrete;
- install a polyethylene membrane under the concrete;
- install a balanced ventilation system;
- install a pipe that runs across the concrete slab, to hook up a depressurization system if necessary.
Other corrective and preventive measures are featured in the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s brochure “Radon – A Guide for Canadian Homeowners”.
For more information :
Tel. : 1 800 561-3350 (in Quebec)
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation - Radon
Tel. : 1 888 772-0772