The Other Odourless, Invisible Gas That Could Kill You
A couple of weeks ago, we posted about monsters lurking under your bed. You may also be familiar with the dangers of carbon monoxide (spoiler alert - You can’t smell or see carbon monoxide, but it is deadly and you should have a detector).
Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally when the uranium in soil and rock breaks down. It is invisible, odourless and tasteless. When radon is released from the ground into the outdoor air, it is diluted and is not a concern. However, in enclosed spaces, like homes, it can sometimes accumulate to high levels, which can be a risk to the health of you and your family.
Studies show that it’s the second-leading cause of lung cancer after cigarettes. Health Canada estimates that 16% of lung cancer cases among Canadians may be caused by radon.
All homes and buildings have some radon; the question is how much? The good news is that once a house is tested, lowering the radon levels is fairly easy.
There are a number of ways to reduce radon in your home but one of the most common ways is by installing an active soil depressurization system, which uses a pipe and exhaust fan to release the gas. This prevents radon from building up in the home.
Health Canada scientists Mathieu Brossard, Renato Falcomer and Jeff Whyte were curious about whether or not Canada’s cold climate would affect these systems, which typically involve a pipe that goes from under the basement, up through the house and out the roof.
In 2009, radon measurements taken near Maniwaki, Quebec on the Kitigan Zibi Anishabeg (KZA) reserve showed almost half the houses had radon concentrations above the Canadian radon guideline.
As Health Canada and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada worked with the KZA community, the researchers were able to test various fan and discharge locations, such as the above-roof-line and side-wall systems. Since the side-wall system is cheaper and easier to install, the researchers wanted to see if it could be as effective as the standard system at reducing radon. They also wanted to see which system could cut it when it came to potential snow and ice build-up in our long, cold Canadian winters.
Caption: Illustration of two different depressurization systems for lowering radon levels. On the left, a side-wall system. On the right, an above-roof-line system.
As published in Health Physics in February 2015, the results from the KZA community showed that a side-wall discharge and indoor fan was able to reduce the radon as effectively as above-roof-line discharge, with the added advantage of being less prone to ice build-up, more affordable to install, and involving a less invasive pipe layout than the above-roof-line system.
Health Canada now includes this information in its mitigation guide. This information is also being considered for inclusion in national standards related to radon for new and existing construction, which are currently under development.
CAPTION: Health Canada scientists Renato Falcomer and Steven Reid setting up continuous radon monitors near an exhaust outlet in a field study in Ottawa, Ontario.
Health Canada continued radon research with scientists from the Radiation Protection Bureau recently conducting a field study measuring radon levels in roughly 50 homes in the Ottawa-Gatineau area. All homes had a radon reduction system installed with indoor-mounted fans and side-wall discharge. These homes now have radon levels below the guideline. The average radon reduction of 90.7% confirms that the side-wall system is very effective. The results of this study will be posted as a summary on the Health Canada website in the coming months.
The average radon mitigation process, usually done by a contractor, will cost between $1500 - $3000.
So now that we enter the coldest time of the year, it’s time to buy a test and find out if YOU have radon!
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