My name is Peter Young, and earlier this year I graduated from Memorial University of Newfoundland with a major in physics. In my time spent there I have learned a lot; one topic that has stuck with me is radon.
November is Radon Action Month, but many are unaware of radon and the dangers that it poses. Radon is a natural radioactive gas created as uranium decays, and can enter homes through floor drains, exposed soil, open sumps, and cracks in foundations walls. Radon is heavy, and more concentrated on the lowest floor of the home. It cannot be tasted, smelled, or seen; a person cannot detect radon without special equipment designed for this purpose, known as an alpha track detector (or radon test kit). Radon concentration is measured in Becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3) — the number of radon particles which decay in one second per cubic metre of air. Health Canada strongly recommends that radon concentration in homes, schools, and other public buildings do not go above 200 Bq/m3; above 600 Bq/m3 is considered extremely serious.
Fortunately, radon is not poisonous, and does not constitute a short-term health risk. Less fortunately, long-term exposure to high concentrations of radon greatly increases your risk of lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in Canada, only after smoking, and leads to about 16 per cent - nearly one-sixth — of annual lung cancer deaths in Canada. Coupling radon exposure with smoking multiplies your risk of developing lung cancer by 20 times. Children are particularly vulnerable to radon, because their bodies are developing and because they stand lower to the ground.
As radon is conventionally undetectable, there may be radon in your home which you are not aware of, especially if you have not tested your home in a long time (or have not tested at all). If you rent a house or apartment, you are probably unaware of your home’s radon levels; homeowners are not required to test for radon, nor report the results of any testing that they do. Since radon is a heavy gas, you are more likely to be impacted if you rent a basement apartment: you will be sleeping and living in the area of the house with the highest radon concentration, doing potentially irreparable damage to your lungs over the years.
Don’t take chances with the health of yourself and your family; get your home tested for radon now! If you would like more information on radon and radon detection, as well as locations, companies, and organizations which supply radon test kits, visit the website www.takeactiononradon.ca, which is supported by Health Canada.
Peter Young, Corner Brook