Calgary

U of C study finds only one-third of households who identify elevated radon undergo mitigation

A new study by University of Calgary researchers found that people who are educated about, test for and take steps to mitigate their exposure to radioactive radon gas in their homes — reducing their lifetime risk of lung cancer by as much as 40 per cent. 

1 in 7 Calgary homes exceed the Canadian guidelines for radon levels

Dr. Aaron Goodarzi, assistant professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Calgary, said his team's most recent research found that radon exposure is significantly affected by behaviour and socio-economic factors. (Weston Jacques/CBC)

When it comes to radon exposure in Canadian homes, Calgary researchers have found that socioeconomic factors, age and personal behaviours play a big role in how likely someone is to take action to take action and fix any problems. 

Radon is a radioactive, colourless, tasteless gas and can enter a building through the soil, foundation, windows, pipes or plumbing. In Calgary, a different 2019 study by the same group found that about one in seven homes exceed the Canadian guideline of 200 Becquerel per cubic meter.

The new study by University of Calgary researchers was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, and found that people who are educated about, test for and take steps to mitigate their exposure to radioactive radon gas in their homes — reducing their lifetime risk of lung cancer by as much as 40 per cent. 

"We found that for those who identify their household radon as being at risk, dangerous only one-third were able to mitigate or reduce that radon permanently within one to two years of finding that out," said Dr. Aaron Goodarzi, U of C associate professor and scientific director of Evict Radon.

The other two-thirds

He said the other two-thirds broke down into two groups.

"One group that really wants to but says they cannot at least at that time or perhaps ever [reduce or mitigate] because they lack the the financial resources to actually carry out a a full mitigation in their property," he said. 

"Meaning one-third of these households tended to be younger people and younger people on average make less money compared to older individuals, and they also tended to have the most young children. So that's kind of a worst case scenario."

While radon testing kits are only about $50 to $70, proper mitigation for the radioactive gas can cost thousands. (Riley Brandt)

The last group, according to Goodarzi is a group of "procrastinators." 

"They are either delaying or in some cases fully declining action whatsoever on fixing their high rate. They've told us that they have the resources to do that and so from a behavioural perspective that's also quite alarming," he said.

"How we can perhaps promote behaviour change in that aspect and to reduce radon exposure and thereby reduce the future burden of lung cancer in Canada?"

Mitigation often 'unaffordable'

In 2020 the Canadian Cancer Society reported that Canada has among the highest incidence and mortality from lung cancer globally, despite having among the lowest rates of tobacco use. 

"Something else is at play, and all the data so far suggests that that's exceptionally high Canadian radon exposure," said Goodarzi. 

His team is calling on Canadian and provincial governments to find ways to enable those of less socioeconomic means to access radon mitigation services, which can be quite costly. 

"It is often unaffordable to people who may be coming to grips with food insecurity, rising rent, you know the costs that come with having a young family these are the folks being disproportionately exposed and are the most at risk," he said. 

Cost of radon mitigation

Andrew Arshinoff, is the owner of Calgary radon mitigation company, RadonCare.

He says prices for mitigation can range depending on things like the size of the home, how it was built, the type of furnace and whether there is concrete or sand underneath.

"There's some houses that I can get into. We can do what we have to do, and it takes a few hours. There are others that were there for a couple of days," he said. 

He says on average – warning again that it can be higher or lower depending on the home – a Calgary home would cost about $2500 to properly mitigate against radon exposure. 

"We have done a lot of work in certian neighbourhoods and then there are other neighbourhoods, like in the northeast, where we haven't done nearly as much, " said Arshinoff. 

"That could be because some of these neighbourhoods don't have [the same level of] radon, or maybe in some parts of Calgary if you don't have the $50 to $70 to buy one of the test kits, then you're not going to be able to pay for mitigation."

But Arshinoff said while many folks looked to do cosmetic home improvements over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, lots of others took that time to do radon mitigation in their homes instead. 

"Especially engineers, I imagine because engineers know more about radon, and they knew that because a lot of them were working at home, often in their basements that their radon exposure is a lot higher," he said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at lucie.edwardson@cbc.ca

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