Radon statistics Health Canada
November 2014

Radon is the second leading cause of Lung Cancer: Is it in your patient’s homes?

by Dr. Alan Abelsohn and Kelley Bush

Why is radon a health issue?
Radon is the second largest cause of lung cancer, after smoking, but the #1 cause in non-smokers, and is responsible for more than 3,000 deaths from lung cancer per year in Canada. Non-smokers exposed to radon at the new guideline level of 200 Becquerel/m3 have a 2% lifetime chance of developing lung cancer. For a smoker, this risk increases to 17% at 200 Bq/m3.

How commonly is radon a problem in Ontario homes?
On average 8.2% of homes in Ontario have levels of radon above the Canadian Radon Guideline of 200 Bq/m3, in some Ontario health regions it was over 15%.

What is radon, how might it get into your home and cause lung cancer?
Radon is a colourless, odourless, radioactive gas that originates from the natural breakdown of uranium in soils and rocks. In outdoor air, it is diluted and is not a concern. However, radon can enter homes through cracks in foundations, construction joints, gaps around pipes, sump pumps and drains, etc. and can sometimes accumulate to high levels. 

Inhaled radon decay products emit carcinogenic ionizing radiation. Radon increases the incidence of all histological types of lung cancer, including small cell, adeno-, and squamous cell carcinoma.

Identifying the problem?
Although short term testing gives some information, long term testing for a minimum of three months, ideally during the winter months, is recommended by Health Canada.

Inexpensive "do it yourself" radon test kits are available on-line, and in local hardware or home building supply stores or you can hire a professional to measure the radon level in your home.

November is Radon Action Month

November has been designated Radon Action Month. Get to know more about Radon from the following resources suggested by Dr. Abelsohn and Ms. Bush:

If a house has elevated radon levels, smoking cessation is the first intervention. Beyond that, treatment is actually treatment of the house,  to reduce the level of radon.

Contractors certified by the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program (C-NRPP) can remediate the problem and determine the best and most cost-effective way to do so. The most common radon reduction method is called sub-slab depressurization. With this solution a pipe is installed through the basement sub-flooring to an outside wall or up through to the roof line with a small fan attached which draws the radon from below the house to the outside before it can enter your home. This type of system can reduce the radon level in a home by over 90%. Increasing ventilation and sealing major entry routes can also help reduce radon levels but their effectiveness will be limited depending on how high the radon level is and the unique characteristics of each home.

Get your home tested for Radon:

Kelley Bush from Health Canada mentions that testing is easy and had her own home tested for Radon. She shared the following quote of someone who had their home tested:

"Testing the radon level in my home was easy, I purchased a long term radon test-kit from my local Home Hardware store for approximately $40 and spent another $15-20 for shipping fees and lab analysis. The instructions were easy to follow, I placed the detector in a bedroom in my basement, the biggest challenge was remembering after 3 months where I put the envelope and information to ship the detector back to the lab to get my results." said Colin from Ottawa, ON.
radon detector

An example of a long-term radon test kit above. 

Meet the authors:

Dr. AbelsonDr. Alan Abelsohn

Dr. Alan Abelsohn is a family physician in Toronto, Associate Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto; and a physician-epidemiologist with Health Canada's Air Quality Health Index program.

Kelley Bush

Kelley Bush is the Head of Radon Education and Awareness at Health Canada's Radiation Protection Bureau. The Radiation Protection Bureau has a mandate to promote and protect the health of Canadians by assessing and managing the risks posed by radiation exposure in living, working and recreational environments.