Calgary

Cancer expert urges Albertans to test homes for deadly radon gas

Scientists at the University of Calgary say less than five per cent of people know what radon gas is, let alone how dangerous it can be. And they’re trying to change that with a campaign they call Evict Radon.

U of C researcher says less than 5% of homeowners even know what radon is, let alone its dangers

Dr. Aaron Goodarzi, seen here with a radon testing kit, wants people from across the province to take part in the Evict Radon campaign. (Elissa Carpenter/CBC)

Scientists at the University of Calgary say less than five per cent of people know what radon gas is, let alone how dangerous it can be. And they're trying to change that with a campaign they call Evict Radon.

The gas, which is produced naturally when uranium in soil breaks down, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in Canada.

Cancer researcher Aaron Goodarzi at the U of C's Cumming School of Medicine found that one in eight Calgary homes exceeds Health Canada's acceptable radon levels.

A becquerel is the unit scientists use to measure radioactivity. According to Health Canada, the acceptable level of radon in the average home is 200 becquerels per cubic metre (200 Bq/m³), while the World Health Organization sets the acceptable level at 100 becquerels per cubic metre (100 Bq/m³).

Homeowners who register radon levels more than 200 Bq/m³ should take action. 

Testing alerted Bragg Creek homeowner Gordon McIlwain that his home had dangerously high radon levels. He had a device installed to pump out the radioactive gas. (Elissa Carpenter/CBC)

Gordon McIlwain, who has spent almost 20 years in his Bragg Creek home, says he knew about Radon, but he didn't know his house could be filled with it.

When friends tested their house, McIlwain decided to do the same.

"I got a reading of over 1,000. Health Canada's guideline for when you start to get worried or when you need to do something about it is 200," he said.

McIlwain then had a device installed to remediate the radon in his home. It's called sub-slab depressurization, wherein a little hole is drilled through the foundation into the soil underneath. An air-tight fan then vents the radon up and outside.

A week later, the levels in his home dropped to 40 Bq/m³.

Goodarzi and his colleagues are asking Albertans to follow his example.

"What we know right now is that less than five per cent have even heard about radon. It's a naturally occurring radioactive soil gas that our homes are breathing in. It concentrates inside our houses."

Goodarzi says radon is especially hard on children because their developing lungs breathe faster.

Although the study is taking place at the U of C, researchers want Albertans from across the province to sign on so that scientists can help determine what role soil composition and geography play in radon production.

Radon test kits cost between $50 and $100 and are available at most hardware stores. 

For more information, or to have your home tested, check out evictradon.ca.

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