The leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers is an invisible, odourless and tasteless radioactive gas present at dangerously high levels in as many as one in 10 homes in Quebec.
Radon is a common, naturally occurring gas released by the breakdown of uranium in soil. It enters homes through cracks in the foundation, gaps around service points, and other places where there are openings near to the ground.
At low levels, radon gas is not harmful, but in higher concentrations, it can be harmful to lung health over time.
According to Health Canada, radon exposure is responsible for about 16 per cent of lung cancers and more than 3,200 deaths each year, or about eight deaths per day.
Radon is a known risk. But the good news is, it’s simple and inexpensive to find out whether your home — or a home you hope to buy — has a radon problem. It’s also not as expensive as you might think to remediate the problem.
The only way to tell if a home has high levels of radon is to test, which is why Health Canada and the Canadian Association of Radon Technologists (CARST) recommend that all home owners should either purchase a do-it-yourself test kit or hire a professional to measure radon levels within their homes.
According to CARST spokesperson Erin Curry, radon exposure kills more people every year than motor vehicle collisions, drownings, house fires and carbon monoxide combined.
“We wear our seatbelts and change our batteries in our smoke detectors, but very few of us — only six per cent of Canadians — have tested their homes for radon,” Curry said.
The test can be done for less than $50 using an inexpensive home test kit available online or in home improvement stores (there is a list of reputable suppliers at takeactiononradon.ca, a website created by CARST and the Canadian Cancer Society).
The kit measures radon levels within a home over three months, ideally during the winter season. At the end of the test period, the device is mailed to a lab, and the homeowner is given a report that indicates whether radon remediation is required.
If the test comes back indicating that there may be high levels of radon in a home, it doesn’t mean the home’s a lemon. In Canada, radon remediation costs about $3,000 on average, and the good news is, once you do ante up for radon remediation, it’s typically a one-time fix.
“I think that a lot of people are scared to test,” Curry said. “They think if the test comes back high it’ll be super expensive and super complicated. But it is nice for people to know there is a solution to the problem. It is proven, and it is relatively inexpensive.”
On Nov. 15, CARST released new guidelines for realtors and homeowners urging sellers to have their homes tested and buyers to add radon levels to the list of things to ask about when making an offer on a home.
Realizing a three-month testing period may be impractical to complete within the normal process of clearing subjects on a promise to purchase, CARST has come up with new recommendations for a quicker, albeit less accurate, test that can be completed within four days and indicates whether a home is likely to have annual radon levels above the safe threshold of 200 Bq/m3.
If the quick test shows a home may have high levels of radon, it doesn’t mean the buyer needs to walk away from the deal. Instead, CARST recommends buyers make an offer at a price that reflects the likely cost of radon remediation, just as they would for another major repair, and plan on conducting the full three-month test after moving in to determine the actual level of risk.
Curry said remediation usually takes no more than a day, and should be done by an accredited professional. The fix can be as simple as sealing cracks around the base of a home to prevent the gas from seeping in, but often requires installing an active soil depressurization system, which has been shown to reduce home radon levels by as much as 91 per cent.
For more information on radon, visit canada.ca/radon