Hamilton

1 in 7 Hamilton homes likely have radon levels that triple Ontario average: public health

Public health officials say roughly one in seven Hamilton homes have radon levels three times higher than Ontario's average, and say residents should test to see if the cancer-causing gas is impacting their health.

City asking residents to test their homes for cancer-causing radon gas after seeing high levels across city

Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, linked to roughly 16 per cent of all lung cancer deaths in Canada. (CBC)

Public health officials say roughly one in seven Hamilton homes have radon levels three times higher than Ontario's average, and say residents should test to see if the cancer-causing gas is impacting their health.

Kevin McDonald, director of healthy environments with public health, and Dr. Bart Harvey, associate medical officer of Health, explained the grim findings in a board of health meeting on Monday.

Public health surveyed 294 homes in Hamilton and found 14.3 per cent had 200 becquerels per cubic metre, which exceeds the national recommendation and is three times higher than Ontario's average, Harvey said.

"Based on the results of this survey, we would not be able to rule out the possibility that any census tract in Hamilton, any geographic area, could have upwards of 18 per cent of the homes with elevated radon levels," he said.

Radon is a gas you can't see or smell that is made when natural uranium in rocks decays. It becomes radioactive as it breaks down and can build up to dangerous levels in homes through cracks or openings in floors in contact with the ground, or through foundations.

Hamilton public health's radon survey shows homes in Ancaster and Dundas had higher levels of radon, but the agency warns the city can't rule out any part of the city not having radon. (City of Hamilton)

Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, Harvey said, and is linked to roughly 16 per cent of all lung cancer deaths in Canada.

Quite a few areas in Hamilton weren't surveyed, Harvey said, so those levels could be higher or lower than the ones tested. But the city needs to increase awareness of radon so locals can test for it.

"You never really know if you have it," Harvey said, "or you don't unless you go through this 90-day testing process."

More radon awareness needed

Harvey said the city will need to up the awareness campaign public health started last year, he said. The best time to test for the gas, he said, is during the heating season. Test kits can be purchased online or in local department stores.

If people test now, he said, they can get their results in early 2021.

Those with high levels can hire a mitigation professional certified under the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program — and it can cost $2,000 to $4,000.

The city's planning committee will discuss the building division's plans to implement radon gas control measures in new construction and additions of low-rise residential buildings.

Building permit drawings will need to clearly indicate details on how they will mitigate radon. Developers will have three options.

This program applies to new building permits applied for after Tuesday.

About the Author

Bobby Hristova

Reporter/Editor

Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca

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