Ontario families at risk with 1 in 20 homes in province containing deadly levels of radon gas

22 October 2015

Toronto -

Ontario families are spending long hours in finished basements yet few realize that dangerous levels of cancer-causing radon gas could be entering the air from the underlying soil, reveals a survey by the Canadian Cancer Society.

Radon is a naturally occurring, colourless and odourless gas that exists at dangerous levels in 5 per cent of Ontario homes. It is responsible for approximately 13 per cent of lung cancer deaths in the province. People are exposed when they breathe in air with high concentrations of radon.

To mark Lung Cancer Awareness and Radon Action Month, the Society commissioned a survey of 1,000 Ontario homeowners with a finished or partially finished basement and who have one or more children under 18. The survey revealed how much time children and their parents spend inside and outside the home in basement spaces, which are high risk areas for radon exposure.

Four out of every 10 parents have a child or teen who spends at least 3 hours a day in their basements, and 14 per cent have a child who sleeps at or below ground level. Outside the home, 20 per cent of parents say their kids spend a minimum of 3 hours in basements or in ground-floor environments such as classrooms and daycares.

Numbers are similar for adult family members, with a third (34 per cent) spending at least 3 hours in their home basement and 18 per cent spending 3 or more hours in basements outside of the home, including 13 per cent who work in such spaces.

Yet, the vast majority of parents – 90 per cent – do not know that radon causes cancer and only 5 per cent have tested their homes for the gas. Nearly all families surveyed have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in the basement. Testing for radon is easy. You can purchase a do-it-yourself test kit for as little as $50.

“We hope our survey sounds the alarm on the risk that radon presents to everyone who lives or works in spaces where this gas could be present,” says John Atkinson, Director of Tobacco Control and Cancer Prevention for the Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division. “Everyone should test and remediate the problem where needed.  We could save hundreds of lives each year in Ontario by doing so.”

Radon gas can be found in almost all indoor air and concentration levels can be very random. One house may exceed limits while the one next door is safe, which is why testing is so important. Remediation, if required, averages between $1,500 and $3,000.

The flow of fresh air in a basement can reduce radon concentrations yet the survey shows 40 per cent for families virtually never open a basement window throughout the year. That rate jumps to 78 per cent during winter months.

Other survey highlights include:

  • 72 per cent have living/rec rooms in the basement, 48 per cent have kids’ play areas, 39 per cent have bedrooms and 27 per cent have home offices;
  • 20 per cent of families have children who spend 6 or more hours in their home’s basement, 16 per cent with adults who do;
  • 21 per cent of parents 18 to 34 work in a basement environment;
  • Only 4 per cent of parents realized that radon kills more people each year than house fires or carbon monoxide poisoning.

To help eliminate the radon threat, the Society is calling on all parties in the provincial government to pass Bill 11, the Radon Awareness and Prevention Act. This legislation would harmonize the Ontario Building Code with the National Building Code to ensure all future buildings don’t have a radon problem and includes a public education campaign on the dangers of radon.

“Passing Bill 11 is important to ensuring all new homes and dwellings in Ontario have comprehensive radon mitigation measures built in,” says Joanne Di Nardo, Senior Manager of Public Issues at the Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division. “Some Ontario municipalities, such as Guelph, have already implemented mandatory comprehensive radon mitigation measures but the Province must act to ensure these measures are implemented across Ontario.”

For more information about radon visit cancer.ca or call a Canadian Cancer Society information specialist at 1 888-939-3333.  To support government action against radon, visit takeaction.cancer.ca.


About the Canadian Cancer Society
The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization dedicated to preventing cancer, saving lives and supporting people living with cancer through research funding, services and advocacy. We are Canada’s largest charity fighting all types of cancer and leading authority on cancer statistics and information. To learn more, call 1 888-939-3333 or visit cancer.ca.

For further information or to book an interview opportunity, please contact:

Angeline Mau, Communications Specialist
Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division
416-323-7117; amau@ontario.cancer.ca

Susan Fekete, Communications Specialist
Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division
613-723-1744 ext. 3616; sfekete@ontario.cancer.ca
Follow us @CCS_media

The survey was conducted by Angus Reid Forum and commissioned by the Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division. A total of n=1000 Ontario homeowners with at least one child under 18 and with finished or partially finished basements were interviewed in the last week of September 2015. Data was weighted by region, age, and gender to ensure the sample matched the actual population of Ontario. The margin of error for this study is +/-3.1%, 19 times out of 20.