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Radon: Is Your Family at Risk?

Posted April 25, 2016

What if we were to tell you that every home in Canada contained the No. 2 cause of lung cancer — and you can’t see it, smell it or taste it? You’d probably be understandably nervous about the safety of your family! Every once-in-awhile radon gets a lot of “air time,” with stories boasting headlines like the one above. It leaves the average homeowner to wonder: Should I be worried? We’re here to help dispel the hysteria and, eventually, the gas!

What is radon anyway?

Scientifically speaking, radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas that is produced by the breakdown of uranium in the ground. The gas is present in the soil and rocks around and beneath your home and enters through any crack or gap in the floors and walls. The amount will vary depending on things such as the season, geographic location, soil characteristics, construction of the home, condition of the foundation, etc.

What that means for you is that regardless of whether your home is new or old, your basement is finished or unfinished, every home will have some radon passing through. It should ease some minds to know that all homes contain radon; it all comes down to knowing what is a safe level and how to maintain it.

What are the risks to my family?

It’s estimated that 10 per cent of all lung cancers are attributable to radon exposure. The fact is, prolonged exposure to high concentrations of radon gas increases your risk of lung cancer. Not only that, but if you smoke, the combination creates a greater risk than either separately. These are scary facts.

But we’ll remind you here again — every home has radon! Meaning, not every home is at risk. Radon is only a concern if levels reach about 200 becquerels per cubic meter. (That number doesn’t mean anything to you now, but when we tell you to test for it below, you’ll want to remember!)

Furthermore, radon only becomes problematic with continued exposure. What that means is that even if your home has higher levels of radon than the recommendation, there is still time to rid your home of the gas and mitigate any problems down the line.

How do I test my home?

The only way to know if the radon in your home has reached danger levels is to take a simple and inexpensive home test. These can be purchased at most home improvement stores and include details on sending it to the lab for testing. The most popular detectors you will find are either the electret ion chamber or the alpha track detector, and either will do.

While your home should be tested during the fall and winter months, when air circulation and ventilation tend to be reduced, we would like you to begin your planning now! Radon concentrations can vary greatly over time and you should test your home over a period of at least three months. This will provide the most accurate picture of your exposure.

A few considerations once you have purchased your test:

  • Place the testing device in the lowest room in your home
  • Avoid the kitchen or bathroom, where exhaust fans can impact the reading
  • Place the device where it will not be disturbed, but avoid small enclosed areas
  • Do not place the device near exterior walls or floor drains, as this will not provide a true reading of the space
  • Avoid drafts and heat sources (vents, fireplaces, etc.)
  • Place the device at least 50 centimetres from any floor, wall or ceiling and more than 20 cm from any objects

My test came back over the limit! What are the next steps?

Radon gas can seep into your home through dirt floors, cracks in the foundation, sump pumps, floor joints, basement drains and gaps around pipes. If your home test resulted in levels above 200Bq/m3, then it’s time to look at remediation options.

Health Canada recommends that if your levels are between 200 and 600, you should take action within the next two years. If your home’s concentration is above 600, you should take steps to reduce the radon within the next year.

There are a variety of options that can be explored to help return the gas to safe levels within your home. If you’re looking to get a jump on things right away, we’ve suggested some quick fixes. These can help to put your mind at ease while you explore a long-term solution.

So, if you’re up for a DIY project, head on down to the basement:

  • Look around for pipes, drains and open foundation floors. If there are cracks or openings anywhere, these can be easily sealed.
  • If you have exposed floors and foundation walls, grab some paint and a couple of cans of sealant, and paint them. This will help seal any cracks and keep the radon from seeping in.

To develop a long-term solution, you will want to speak with a professional about the best option in your case. This may include:

  • Renovating the existing basement floors with radon remediation in mind. (Particularly effective if you have an earth floor.)
  • Installing an active soil depressurization system to draw the gas from below the concrete or vapour barrier, ventilating it outside before it can enter the home.
  • Introducing a heat recovery ventilator to allow an exchange of air.

We encourage you to contact Amsted’s Home Care department at any point in your radon research, testing or remediation. We are happy to answer any additional questions you may have about radon. And if your test comes back higher than 200Bq/m3, we can discuss your options and create a plan of action that will keep you and your family healthy and safe.