And if you breathe it in for extended periods at a high concentration, it could be a serious detriment to your health.
“The only true way to detect it is to test for it,” says Robert MacDonald, director of health initiatives for the Lung Association of Nova Scotia. “There are some hot spots, or high risk areas, in the province.”
Radon is a natural gas byproduct of uranium that dissipates as it rises. It can be found in people’s homes, especially the basement. The Department of Natural Resources has produced a map showing three levels of radon throughout the province – high, medium, and low risk.
“It’s very dangerous in high concentrations over an extended period of time, for example around eight, nine, or 10 years,” said MacDonald.
According to the association, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, behind smoking. Out of the 730 lung cancer deaths each year in the province, MacDonald said 120 are attributed to radon.
Because of this, the association has given out free detection kits for the second year in a row.
“People often ask if they should go in their basement, but that really depends. Are they living in the basement? Do they only go down there once a week? Are they breathing it in or exposed to the air for a long period of time?”
MacDonald said if people are spending at least four hours a day in their lowest lying room, such as the basement, testing for radon is a good idea.
“Even if they’re not living in a high risk area, they may want to test it,” he said.
This was the second year for the association’s Take Action on Radon program during Radon Awareness Month. Last year, 200 detection kits were given away in the Upper Tantallon area, while 50 were made available this year for 10 different communities. Within a day, most of the kits were gone.
There are two kits available – one for short-term testing (two to four days) and one for long-term (90-plus days). The association gave away long-term kits, which they also sell.
There are two options, said MacDonald, if radon levels are found to be above Health Canada’s recommended levels of 200 becquerels per cubic metre.
“They have to get their home mitigated,” he said. That could mean sealing cracks in foundation and pipes, for example, or installing a depressurizer.
A depressurizer would draw radon gas from under the house and spit it outside where it would dissipate into the air.
MacDonald said research only points to lung cancer so far as a health risk.
“Early detection is vital,” he said. “Lung cancer causes more deaths than prostate, colon and breast cancers combined.”
Things to know:
- When radon gas is breathed in, it breaks down and emits alpha particles, which release small bursts of energy. Nearby lung tissue absorbs that energy, which can result in cell death or damage, which can result in cancer when reproduced.
- The Lung Association of Nova Scotia sells single use radon detection kits for the home, which test for 90 plus days. As soon as the package is opened, the kit starts detecting radon. A tin plate inside the device will see an indentation every time radon hits it. The kit is then sent to a lab for results.
- Radon levels vary throughout Canada, however Manitoba and New Brunswick have a higher incidence of radon levels.
- A Health Canada survey on radon concentrations found that 6.9 per cent of Canadians live in home with levels above the recommended guideline.