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One‐in‐four Manitoba homes have higher than accepted radon gas levels

31 October 2014

Manitoba -

Cortney Hartleb didn’t think her family was at risk from radon gas but when she and her husband decided to renovate their basement, she wanted to check.  

“It’s a newer house – built in 2006 – but still I wanted to be sure there was no radon because we would be spending a lot of time in the basement,’’ said the mother of two. “It was really for peace‐of‐mind.”  

After purchasing a home test kit and sending it off to be analysed, Hartleb was surprised at the results. “It wasn’t a scary number,’’ she said. “It came back at 220 (Bq/m3) which is slightly higher than the Health Canada guidelines (of 200 Bq/m3) but when you compare it to the European guidelines it was more than double what they allow.    

“We had the remediation work done because as a parent, I want to do everything I can to protect my kids from cancer.”  

A Health Canada survey of Canadian homes found that nearly one‐in‐four Manitoba homes have higherradon levels than federal guidelines. Across Canada about 11% of homes have radon gas levels higher than the Health Canada standard of 200 Bq/m3. In Manitoba, 24% of homes have higher than the acceptable levels with some parts of the province – the area in and around Brandon, Bossevian and Dauphin – having up to 41% of homes higher than the accepted level.  

“November is Radon Awareness month and we want people to be aware that they should be testing for radon gas,’’ said Erin Crawford, Senior Director of Public Issues and Community Engagement with the Canadian Cancer Society’s Manitoba Division. “Radon accounts for 16% of all cases of lung cancer in Canada and is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking and the leading cause of lung cancer in non‐smokers.  

Crawford said because of its soil composition, Manitoba homes are more likely to have a build‐up of radon gas. Radon is a colourless, odourless cancer‐causing gas that enters homes through cracks and gaps in the floors and walls of basements and can build up over time.  

“What I`ve learned is that radon can be an issue in all types of homes whether they are new or old, with finished or unfinished basements,” Hartleb said. “The only way to find out if your home has high radon levels is to test.”  

Crawford said those at greatest risk are people who spend significant amounts of time in the basement areas of homes. This includes Manitobans renting basement apartments or those with children in basement daycares. All should be tested for radon.  

If a home has radon levels higher than Health Canada’s guideline of 200 Bq/m3, the Cancer Society recommends home owners take action with the assistance of a remediation professional. Crawford also called on the provincial government to introduce programs to increase testing for radon and mitigation efforts in Manitoba.  

“If your home does have high radon levels, the problem can be fixed, usually within a day,” says Crawford. “But first, you need to test your home.”  

Unlike carbon monoxide there are no immediate symptoms to signal the presence of radon. There are no known health effects other than lung cancer. There are also no medical tests available to see if you have been exposed to radon.  

The Cancer Society believes people have the right to know if they are being exposed to cancer causing substances in their homes, environment or workplaces. This allows them to make informed decisions and take actions that could impact their health.  

What can you do?

Get your home tested. Radon is easy to test for and can usually be reduced to safe levels by a certified mitigation professional. Everyone should check their home but those who live in older homes, spend time in their basement or smoke are at higher risk.  

Long term tests (three months to one year) produce more accurate results than short term testing. Low‐cost test kits are available through the Canadian Cancer Society at 1‐888‐532‐6982. They can also be purchased at some local hardware stores, the Home Depot or through a certified radon testing professional.  

You can find Canadian radon testing service providers and mitigation experts listed on the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) website at: http://www.neha‐nrpp.org/cnrpp.shtml.  

For valuable information about radon and how to test your home visit www.cancer.ca.

The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.