A silent killer: Sask. residents urged to test radon levels at home

The province is a hotbed for radon and the Saskatchewan Lung Association is encouraging residents to test for radon levels at home.

Health Canada 26% of homes in Regina tested above the Canadian guideline in 2011

Donna Pasiechnik's Regina home tested above the Canadian guidelines for radon levels but after mitigation that number dropped to a safe level. (Mike Zartler/CBC News)

Donna Pasiechnik's basement is a place of sanctuary for her family, but little did she know it was filled with a radioactive gas that could potentially kill.

The province is a hotbed for radon and the Saskatchewan Lung Association is encouraging residents to test for radon levels at home.

"They call it the silent killer," said Pasiechnik, a Regina homeowner and the spokesperson for the Canadian Cancer Society.

"We spend a lot of time in the basement. We binge on Netflix, my husband works out down here, we even have guests stay down here."

According to Health Canada, 26 per cent of homes in the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region tested above the Canadian guideline of 200 becquerel per metre cubed (Bq/m³) in 2011.

Pasiechnik's home tested 260 Bq/m³ and she knew something had to be done.

No specific radon levels cause lung cancer but long term exposure is considered a danger.

All homes affected

Every building has some level of radon, according to Frank Kirkpatrick, who runs a radon mitigation company in Regina.

Frank Kirkpatrick has travelled the province mitigating radon levels and says the province is a hotbed for the radioactive gas. (Mike Zartler/CBC News)

He responded to Pasiechnik's service call.

"There's no way of knowing how high radon levels are just by looking at a house. Every house should be tested," said Frank Kirkpatrick, Master Radon.

The gas is created when uranium is naturally broken down in the ground. It doesn't have a smell, taste or color.

Health risks

Second to cigarettes, radon is a leading cause of lung cancer. For non-smokers, it's the number one trigger for the disease.

Although residents can take steps on their own to mitigate, Health Canada recommends hiring a professional if levels are higher than the guideline.

"The danger of doing this work and not doing it properly is if you're not doing it right and creating a negative pressure is you could potentially cause a chimney to downdraft," said Kirkpatrick, explaining that effect could result in carbon monoxide entering the home.

The cost to mitigate professionally usually costs between $500 and $3500, he said.

Long-term prevention

A small black container to collect radon sits on top of an information pamphlet
A radon testing kit from the Saskatchewan Lung Association. (Mike Zartler/CBC News )

You can order a radon test from the Saskatchewan Lung Association on its website for a cost of $50. That includes an analysis from the Saskatchewan Research Council.

Homeowners should also do a follow-up test during the next fall or winter season to ensure levels remain reduced. The entire test takes about three months to complete.