Radon gas second leading cause of lung cancer: Health Canada

Photo by Hey Paul Studios.

Winters, closed windows and doors and a tasteless and odourless radioactive gas – this deadly combination is what Health Canada is raising awareness about this November as part of its campaign for lung cancer awareness month.

Recent research by Health Canada shows that exposure to radon gas, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in Canada after tobacco smoking. The study found that 16 per cent of lung cancers were induced by radon exposure inside the home, said Kelley Bush, head of radon education and awareness at Health Canada. The organization is encouraging Canadians to test radon levels in their homes.

Bush said a cross-Canada survey of 14,000 homes conducted by the organization in 2011 also shows that about seven per cent of homes have high levels of radon.

“The research also validated our recommendations to Canadians for an all-Canadian home ownership test, because really at the end of the day, that is the only way to know,” said Bush.

“We can’t tell you because you live in this certain area, you have this type of house that you are going to have high levels of radon or you are not. So, that is why Health Canada recommends that all homeowners have to test their radon. And our recommendation is that you should do that using a long term test for a minimum of three months, ideally in the fall-winter time frame.”

The type of radiation released by radon, known as alpha radiation, poses no risk to the outside body as it cannot penetrate the skin, Bush said. The risk is to the lung tissue which has no protection. “What happens is you breathe the radon in, it lodges in a lung tissue and the type of radiation that it is, it stays around for almost four days,” said Bush. “Alpha radiation releases energy and when that energy is released into the lung tissue, it can effect the cells and the DNA in those cells which overtime can lead to lung cancer.”

But the risk of lung cancer is not immediate, said Bush. “Someone does not all of a sudden, in one day, get lung cancer. Typically, it is years, decades of exposure.”

Radon is a radioactive gas that is produced naturally by the decay of uranium, found in soil, rock or water. It is invisible, tasteless and odourless and can move freely through the soil and enter buildings undetected through cracks in the floors or gaps around pipes. Confined to enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces, it can accumulate to high levels. Radon levels are generally highest in basements and lower levels of homes. When radon escapes into the outdoor air it gets diluted, and the levels are negligible and do not pose a health risk.

“Everyone has radon present in their homes,” said Bush. “It is not a question of whether or not you do have radon. It is everywhere. It is in every home. The question is how much. Because the health risk associated is dependent on how high the level is and how long you are exposed for.”

The Lung Association of Canada is also working with Health Canada to raise awareness about radon exposure in homes. Both organizations are encouraging Canadians to test radon levels in their homes. Homeowners have two options: they can hire a certified professional who can carry out the test for them or they can purchase a do-it-yourself test kit and test radon levels themselves.

Janis Hass, a spokesperson of the Lung Association said the test can be purchased all across Canada, either through provincial lung association units or at any home improvement store.

“Testing is really easy,” said Hass. “We recommend the long term radon test, because they are more accurate than the short term ones.”
The test requires putting the detector in the basement and leaving it there for three months. After this period, the detector is sent back to a lab which sends the results back to the homeowner. Health Canada recommends testing levels up to the second floor.

The Canadian guideline released by Health Canada recommends remedial measures to be undertaken in a dwelling whenever the average annual radon concentration exceeds 200 becquerels per cubic metre in the normal occupancy area. Becquerel is the unit used by scientists to measure the number of radioactive decays of radon atoms. The guideline says the higher the radon concentration, the sooner remedial measures should be undertaken and that when remedial action is taken, the radon levels should be reduced to a value as low as is practicable.

Hass said the Lung Cancer Association has been raising awareness about radon exposure for the past three years. “It has always been a problem that has existed but people weren’t aware of it,” said Hass. “So we were working with Health Canada to make more people aware because the concentration of radon effects more homes than people had previously thought it does.”

If high levels of radon are found in a house, there are methods like sub-slab-depressurization, sealing of entry points and increased ventilation that are recommended to lower the levels. Specialized mitigators can also be hired to help deal with high radon levels.

Advertisements

Tags:

Categories: Features, Latest News, Policy, Public health

Author:Naureen Aqueel

Journalism grad from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. Previously journalist and subeditor in Pakistan.

Subscribe

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Radon gas second leading cause of lung cancer: Health Canada « Naureen Aqueel - February 2, 2013

    […] in The Ward, Ottawa’s health […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: