Radon is a radioactive gas that is produced naturally by the breakdown of uranium in the ground. It seeps into homes through small gaps and cracks in the floors and walls and is an invisible hazard. While it can be found across the whole country, it is very prevalent here in southeast Saskatchewan.
“We want all Canadians to test for radon because it is a lung cancer risk and a preventable one at that,” said Sandy Hutchison. He is a radiation specialist with Health Canada. “We estimate, actually, that over 3,000 cases of lung cancer are related to radon exposure in this country every year.”
The southeast corner of the province is prone to high levels of the gas.
A study in the southeast conducted by Take Action on Radon included 117 homes and the study ran in the winter and spring of 2022. Of those homes 55 percent tested above Health Canada’s guideline of 200 Becquerels per cubic meter. At that level, it is recommended to take action to help mitigate the radon levels in the home.
Knowing where the radon comes from can be a first step in helping to mitigate the levels.
“You have to have a source in the soil, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you have uranium in the province, and the glaciers distributed that around a long time ago, so there is a source, and radon is a natural occurring breakdown product of uranium in the soil,” Hutchison said of the first source.
The second is the environment. Thanks to the weather we see for a good portion of the year, people in Weyburn keep doors and windows closed, as it is a lot more energy-efficient in the winter. This means the heating source can inadvertently draw the soil gasses into the house. The general lifestyle is another factor, with the use of air exchangers, exhaust fans, and how often doors and windows are opened and closed coming into play.
To know what the levels of radon are in a home, Health Canada is recommending residents sign up for radon testing, which Hutchison said is a fairly simple process. A person would need to contact one of the approved companies that provide the testing kits, and the list can be found at test4radon.ca.
“We recommend testing for a three-month period because radon is a gas,” Hutchison added. “It does peak and valley. Whether it’s high winds outside or a day when you’re cooking a lot and using an exhaust fan, that will have an impact on the amount of radon entering the home.”
Once the test results come back, mitigation steps can be taken. Hutchison said this can include something called depressurization, which involves a four-inch pipe going through the floor of the home, into contact with the soil, with a fan that will continuously draw up the soil gas and exhaust to to the outside.
“This is the most effective way because you’re dealing with the source.”
Hutchison reiterated that long-term radon exposure is the number one cause of lung cancer in people who don’t smoke, that it is preventable, and testing is the only way to find out how much radon is in the indoor environment.