Maureen Tourangeau —
Fact: Smoking isn’t the only cause of lung cancer.
With a low survival rate of only 17%, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in Canada, taking the lives of more Canadians than breast, prostate and colorectal cancers combined. In 2013, it is estimated that 27% of cancer deaths or 20,200 people will die from lung cancer in Canada. The five-year relative survival rate is estimated at 14% for men and 20% for women.
The Canadian Cancer Society supports Bill 96 on radon mitigation to protect people at home, work and school.
Many people tend to think that lung cancer is restricted to smokers or exposure to second-hand smoke. However, few know that exposure to high concentrations of radon gas is the second-leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.
What is Radon?
Radon is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas that is naturally occurring in the environment. It can be found in almost all indoor air including homes, offices, schools and any other indoor environment. Low concentrations of radon are safe. However, high concentrations of radon cause cancer. Health Canada estimates that 16% of lung cancer deaths in Canada are caused by radon and that an estimated 500,000 Canadians are living in homes that exceed federal guidelines for radon gas exposure.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of radon exposure. If a child lives in a home with a very high radon concentration for only a few years, the risk of developing lung cancer later in life could be the equivalent to a lifetime exposure to moderate radon concentration. The risk for lung cancer for smokers who are also exposed to high concentrations of radon is also significantly increased.
Radon is released into the air as soil and rocks containing uranium naturally breakdown. Outdoors, the released radon is quickly dispersed and levels remain very low. However, when radon enters buildings through foundations, cracks, holes, pipes and other openings in walls and floors it may build up in concentration. This is particularly true in basements which are often poorly ventilated.
Radon levels in homes should meet Health Canada’s guidelines of 200 Bg/m3 or less. If levels are higher than those guidelines, immediate action with a certified radon mitigation contractor should be taken to reduce exposure.
Why should Ontarians care?
A 2011 study conducted by Health Canada of more than 14,000 buildings across Canada found that approximately five per cent of homes in Canada tested positive for more than four times the safe concentrations of radon.
Consider this. The National Building Code contains radon mitigation measures such as increased ventilation that would, if used, reduce concentration of radon in new buildings. But the code is voluntary.
On the other hand, the Ontario Building Code is mandatory, but the province has not yet adopted the National Building Code standards on radon mitigation. If Ontario adopted the national building code standards these measures would become mandatory for all new buildings and further protect the community from radon exposure at work and in schools.
In an effort to minimize radon exposure in Ontario’s communities, Dr. Shariq Qaadri, MPP for Etobicoke North, has introduced Bill 96 – the Radon Awareness and Prevention Act. The bill is supported by the Canadian Cancer Society, the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada (RSCI) and the Ontario Lung Association. The bill is intended to protect Ontarian’s health through harmonization of the building codes, a public registry and a public education campaign to raise awareness on the easy measures people can take to safeguard their homes.
What can you do to protect yourself?
Test your home for radon. A simple, low-cost kit should be placed in the home for three to six months during the time that most windows and doors are closed (fall / winter) and when radon accumulation is more likely to be detected. You can purchase a radon testing kit ranging from $20 – $50 from your local hardware store. The kit will then need to be sent to a lab to receive the test results. The lab submission is included in most kits.
If lab results come back with a high radon level, you should contact a certified radon mitigation contractor to take steps to improve ventilation in your home and minimize your exposure. Improvements can generally be rectified for a relatively low cost to the homeowner.
As Mike Holmes, Canada’s most trusted contractor and beloved host on HGTV so eloquently put it in his May 2012 National Post column: “Is radon something we should think about? Yes. Should we panic? No. Bottom line: Whether it’s mold, asbestos or radon, any time our health or our family’s health is compromised we need to be concerned.”
So don’t just sit still. Take action. Go out and buy a kit. Test your home. Find out where your MPP stands on this important cancer-prevention policy and challenge them to support Bill 96 by visiting takeaction.cancer.ca/radon
Maureen Tourangeau has volunteered with the Canadian Cancer Society for 37 years and has been involved with advocacy outreach since 2006.