The Canadian Environmental Law Association, or CELA for short, oversees a number of environmental issues, working to make choices on how to best protect the health of the greatest number of Canadian citizens. They consider radon worthy of their attention.
A carcinogen, radon is responsible for about 3300 Canadian deaths each year, placing it above all other indoor pollutant risks during one's lifetime. Here's why:
Radon gas is a radioactive airborne pollutant
Radon is the second only to smoking as the leading cause of death from lung cancer
Radon gas is the result of the breakdown of naturally occurring uranium in soil, rock, and water
Radon risk increases as buildings are sealed up for energy efficiency
Radon is odourless and colourless, only detected through testing
Among the many issues Health Canada focuses on, radon has received some much deserved attention. Important research and testing programs, updates to the National Building Code, a Canadian certification program for radon mitigation professionals, and broad public outreach advising the benefits of testing have all helped to increase awareness of the dangers posed by radon gas.
While the Canadian radon guideline suggests 200 Becquerels per cubic metre to be an acceptable level, many wish for a lower number. The David Suzuki Foundation, for one, suggests the 200 Becquerels per cubic metre is based on outdated science, advising that the 100 Becquerels per cubic metre recommended by the World Health Organization is more appropriate.
With 19,000 federal building tests and 18,000 residence tests across Canada to their credit, the feds are working hard on the issue and are to be commended. However, it is estimated that about seven percent, or 600,000 homes across Canada have radon levels exceeding the Canadian guidelines, indicating there is still much work to be done.
While radon can be detected in all homes at some times of the year, there are areas that prove more troublesome than others. Parts of Manitoba, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, and Yukon have indicated that up to 50 percent of the homes located there exceed the recommended limits.
Where levels are found to be too high, remediation can usually fix the problem, lowering measurements of radon gas to acceptable levels. Those fixes, diverting the gas away from the foundation, run anywhere from $500 to $3000 per home.
Newer homes have been built with revised building codes taking protective measures, but existing homes built prior to the code revisions may require more detailed remediation. CELA, in tandem with the Green Budget Coalition, is requesting that the federal government award citizens a tax credit to offset radon mitigation costs.
The key here is testing. The first step needed to determine whether radon gas is an issue runs into motivational challenges getting homeowners to test for something they cannot see, smell, or taste. While Health Canada's message has been good, there is a need for additional outreach on radon. Supporting our citizens' desire to comply with tax credits that help them with remediation costs is a step in the right direction.