Yukon health officials and housing authorities are warning people about the dangers of radon gas and urging them to protect themselves.
Tests done over the past 20 years show the concentration of radon in Yukon homes is among the highest in Canada. Of a thousand Yukon homes that have been tested, at least 30 per cent exceeded Health Canada safety standards.
Almost 10 per cent have shown dangerously high levels of the radioactive gas.
"It causes cancer," says Catherine Elliott, Yukon's deputy medical officer of health. "I think we've known for a long time that radioactivity causes cancer in tissues, and radon is a radioactive gas that you breath into the lungs."
Radon is a colourless, odourless gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks. It's present everywhere but it becomes a more serious health concern when it becomes concentrated in a home.
Testing and mitigation
Health Canada says radon exposure is linked to approximately 16 per cent of lung cancer deaths in Canada. Along with smoking, radon is a leading cause of lung cancer.
"You don't feel radon, you don't smell it, you don't get headaches," said Erik Simanis, one of seven recently-trained radon mitigation professionals in Whitehorse. "You can't really tell it's in your house until you test."
Radon typically seeps into basements through cracks in the foundation.
Simanis says he seals up any cracks and installs a fan system to prevent soil gasses from getting into the house. He says such systems can cost about $2,000.
The Yukon Housing Corporation has free radon testing kits available for homeowners.
Health Canada recommends long-term tests, done over several months in the winter, for more accurate results. Radon levels can fluctuate from day to day and don't become as concentrated in summer when windows are open.