Radon mitigation reimbursements available for Sask. homeowners
Study shows 1/3 of Canadians who test high for radon can’t afford to remove it from their homes
Lung Saskatchewan is providing up to $1,000 for homeowners in the province who pay to have radon removed from their homes.
The radon mitigation reimbursement program was created in late 2020, and is being promoted again for November, which has been designated Radon Action Month by the advocacy group Take Action on Radon.
The grants are part of the organization's Carrying Breath Financial Assistance program, which is funded by the Conexus Credit Union.
Lung Saskatchewan will provide reimbursements until the financial assistance program runs out of funding.
Radon is Canada's leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. Exposure to the radioactive gas causes about 4,000 lung-cancer deaths each year in Canada, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority website.
A recent report on radon levels in Weyburn by Take Action on Radon — a Health Canada-funded organization that works to raise radon awareness — found more than half of homes tested were above Health Canada's guideline of 200 Bq/m³, or becquerels per cubic metre. A becquerel is a measure of radioactivity.
But Bethany Verma, Lung Saskatchewan's health promotion co-ordinator, said high radon levels aren't limited to that city.
"Saskatchewan is definitely a hot spot. We have some of the highest radon levels in the world," Verma said.
"In Saskatchewan we have a lot of uranium in our soil, so that's part of why the radon levels are so high."
Tough to detect, expensive to get rid of
Odourless, tasteless and naturally occurring, radon gas is created from the decay of uranium in minerals found in rock, soil and water, according to Lung Cancer Canada.
Radon is most prevalent in homes, but also appears in workplaces and schools. The only way to know if radon is present is to use test kits in indoor spaces.
Radon test kits typically cost under $100, but the national average installation cost of radon mitigation systems is approximately $3,000, according to a Take Action on Radon news release.
A new study conducted by University of Calgary, University of Saskatchewan and University of British Columbia researchers found that one-third of Canadians who have tested high for radon, who then acknowledged they have a radon exposure issue, can't afford to remove the the radioactive gas from their homes.
"That bracket was largely associated with simply being younger, these are folks with young families, they haven't climbed the job ladder yet," said Aaron Goodarzi, U of C associate professor and scientific director of Evict Radon, an organization founded by Canadian scientists to understand and prevent radon exposure.
"They have a lot of expense and of course they're prioritizing, quite understandable, those versus being able to fix radon at a time where it would be ideal for them to do so."
Goodarzi said younger people are far more at risk to suffer from the consequences of early life radon exposure.
Lung Saskatchewan hopes the reimbursements will be an incentive to install the mitigation systems.
"We thought that if we could cover up to $1,000, we can kind of spread the money across multiple people getting some help in covering up to half of that mitigation," Verma said.
All that is needed to be eligible for the program is to have the procedure done by a certified radon mitigation expert.
A step in the right direction: association
In some other provinces, there are already programs that provide radon mitigation support.
The Manitoba Lung Association provides up to $1,500 for mitigation for low- to moderate-income families and those fighting lung cancer. In Ontario, Tarion — the not-for-profit that administers the province's new home warranty program — provides coverage for the entire cost of mitigation systems for all new homes within the first seven years of construction.
Pam Warkentin, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists, said having monetary support is a step in the right direction.
"It's great to see some of these opportunities become available," Warkentin said.
Warkentin said the next important step is building up the number of people able to install the systems.
"If people just test and they stop there, they're not actually reducing their risks," Warkentin said.
"We need people to fix it."
Spreading radon awareness
Warkentin said the pandemic led to an increase in awareness around indoor health, including the dangers of radon.
"I think a lot of people don't test their homes because life is busy and that just hasn't been a priority for them," Warkentin.
"But during the pandemic, now the workplace is your home and the onus is on you to make it a safe place."
Warkentin noted exposures likely increased during the pandemic because people were spending more time at home.
For Radon Action Month, Saskatchewan Lung has partnered with Tackle Radon, which has football players telling the stories of lung cancer survivors and encouraging people to test their homes.
- This story has been edited to clarify funding sources for radon mitigation in Manitoba and Ontario.Nov 19, 2022 11:56 AM CT