Over the years, I had heard about radon gas in the news but never really gave it much thought. It was just one of those things that went in one ear and out the other.
In 2020, I learned a lot about radon. I received an email from the Saskatchewan Research Council, where I work, about getting a home radon test, learned what radon gas is and why we should be concerned about radon levels.
I ordered the radon test kit and my husband set up the detector in our basement to see how our Regina home was doing when it comes to radon levels. The radon test sat on a bookshelf for a number of months over the winter, and then we packaged it up and sent it off to get the results in spring 2021.
What is Radon
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas from the breakdown of uranium in soil. You can’t see it, smell it or taste it but it’s there. Radon is not a hazard outdoors because when it’s released from the ground, it’s diluted and dissipates into the air safely.
Indoor radon exposure is a different story. Radon can accumulate at high levels in confined spaces.
How Radon Gets Inside
Radon can find its way into your home anywhere there is an opening where the home meets soil. Cracks in foundation walls and floors, joints, spaces near service pipes, drains and sump pits, and wall cavities can all be problem spots that allow radon into your home.
The problem occurs when it accumulates indoors because high levels of radon are a serious health risk.
Radon and Your Health
Prolonged exposure to high levels of radon can increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
Radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and exposure to high levels of radon indoors leads to an increased risk of developing lung cancer.
According to Health Canada, “when radon gas is inhaled into the lungs, it decays into radioactive particles that release small bursts of energy. This energy is absorbed by nearby lung tissue, damaging the lung cells. When cells are damaged, they have the potential to result in cancer when they reproduce.”
The risk increases even more when you’re a smoker who is also exposed to high levels of radon. Health Canada says that a lifelong smoker’s risk of developing lung cancer is one in 10. With the addition of long-term radon exposure, the risk jumps to one in three. Non-smokers with radon exposure have a one in 20 chance of developing lung cancer.
The short answer is: get your home tested and mitigate radon to reduce your risk of lung cancer whether you smoke or not.
Testing is an easy process. You can order a testing kit from the Lung Association of Saskatchewan, which contains an alpha-track detector—an approved test by Health Canada. Place the detector in the lowest area of the home where you and/or your family spend about four hours each day.
It’s best to run the test over at least three months during the fall or winter. Ours sat on a shelf in our basement family room.
The Results Are In
After three months, we sent our test kit to SRC Environmental Analytical Laboratories for analysis. The detector is analyzed right here in Canada, unlike other test kits where the actual analysis is done outside the country.
Our radon test came back at 280 Becquerels per cubic metre (280 Bq/m3). The Health Canada guideline for safe home radon levels is below 200 Bq/m3. Given the amount of time we spend in our home and in our basement family room with our two children, we knew we needed to act.
Calling in the Experts
We contacted a local radon mitigation firm to locate the source of the radon in our home and advise on how to reduce our levels. The company did a thorough inspection of our home and discovered the source was our sump pit. Fortunately, the solution was a simple one.
Radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Exposure to high levels of radon indoors leads to an increased risk of developing lung cancer.
The company installed an airtight lid on our sump pit with a fan that directs the radon from the pit through a pipe that terminates outside the house. The radon is emitted outdoors into the atmosphere at a safe level. The entire project took less than a day. They also left a radon tester with us to see how well the mitigation was working after installation.
Looking for a radon mitigation professional? The Canadian-National Radon Proficiency Program maintains a list of certified professionals.
Within a day, our radon levels dropped to 20 Bq/m3 from 280 Bq/m3. Our radon fan works well, and our radon is removed from our home by a small pipe at the back of our house.
Now, we can safely enjoy our home without thinking about what we’re breathing in and its long-term health effects.
The Lung Association of Saskatchewan sells radon test kits for homes across Canada. Order your radon test kit today.
Check out the Lung Association of Saskatchewan's FAQ on radon testing and results.
This post was written by Brook Thalgott, a former SRC employee.