RADON GAS CAUSES CANCER. NO TASTE, NO SMELL. BUT IT CAN KILL.
When Lyndsay Kovacs learned of the link between radon gas exposure in basements and lung cancer, the Kanata mother was quick to get her house tested given the lower level is a regular play area for her three kids.
When lab results produced higher-than-normal levels, Kovacs wasn't surprised given their home is on bedrock - and radon, a natural, radioactive gas - is produced by the decay of uranium found in rocks and soil.
"Knowing that radon was directly correlated to the bedrock that is under our home … we just assumed that it would be above normal, and worthwhile to get tested," said Kovacs, who became concerned after attending a community information meeting.
Radon is colourless, odourless, tasteless, and escapes into the atmosphere and seeps into buildings - particularly areas like basements and poorly or never ventilated indoor spaces.
To mark Lung Cancer Awareness and Radon Action Month, the Canadian Cancer Society commissioned a survey of 1,000 Ontario homeowners with finished or partially finished basements and who have one or more children under 18. The survey revealed how much time children and their parents spend inside and outside the home in basement spaces, which are high-risk areas for radon exposure.
Four out of every 10 children and teens spend at least three hours a day in their basements, and 14 per cent have a bedroom at or below ground level. Outside the home, 20 per cent of kids spend a minimum of three hours in basements or in ground-floor environments such as classrooms and daycares.
Based on a March 2012 report, Health Canada says one in 20 Ontario homes contain dangerous levels of the cancer-causing gas, which, according to the cancer society, kills 850 Ontarians each year, 10 times as many people as house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning combined, and accounts for 13 per cent of lung cancer deaths in the province per year.
At-home test kits can be purchased over the Internet or from a hardware or home improvement store, or a professional can be hired to test for radon.
It is recommended people use the at-home test for at least three months, ideally between September and April, when windows and doors are typically kept closed. At the end of this period the kit is sent to a lab for analysis (that information is included in the kit).
Kovacs's kit cost $50 (including lab costs), but kits typically range between $25 and $170 according to the City of Ottawa.
Her home tested at 303 bcq/m3 (becquerels per cubic metre) above Health Canada's recommended guideline of 200 bcq/m3. Given her levels were higher, their home required remediation. The one-day job involved drilling a hole in the basement floor and installing piping and a fan unit to vent the gas outside the home.
While the remediation cost $3,400 was covered with her Tarion Home Warranty (her family has lived in their house for six years and the warranty was good for seven years), she would have had the work done regardless.
"It's just peace of mind. Every time my kids go down (to the basement) I'm not concerned about what they are breathing in or how much time they're spending down there because we've taken care of that problem."