Q. I am a smoker. Does radon affect me more than a non-smoker?
A. Yes. The risk from radon exposure for a smoker (including those exposed to second hand smoke) is much greater than for a non-smoker. For example, if you are a lifelong smoker but are not exposed to radon, your risk of getting lung cancer is one in ten. If you add exposure to a high level of radon, your risk becomes one in three. On the other hand, if you are a non-smoker, your lifetime lung cancer risk at the same high radon level is only one in twenty.
Q. Are children more at risk from radon than adults?
A. Children have been reported to be at greater risk than adults for certain types of radiation exposure, but there is currently no conclusive data on whether children are at greater risk than adults from radon.
Q. How can radon get into my house?
A. A house can act like a vaccum for underground gases. The air pressure inside your house is usually lower than in the soil surrounding the foundation. This difference in pressure is caused by things like the use of air exchangers, exhaust fans and clothes dryers. When air is pushed out of the house, outside air is pulled back in to replace it - much of the replacement air comes from the ground surrounding the house and brings gases such as radon with it.
Radon can enter a house any place it finds an opening where the house contacts the soil: cracks in foundation walls and in floor slabs, construction joints, gaps around service pipes and support posts, floor drains and sumps, cavities inside walls, and the water supply.
The only way to find out if your house has a radon problem is to measure the radon concentration inside it.
Q. How do I test my house for radon?
A. The two most common types of radon detectors used for testing houses are short term and long term detectors. The short term detectors are used for a period of 2-7 days, the long term detectors can be used for a period of 1 to 12 months. Since the radon concentration inside a house varies over time, measurements gathered over a longer period of time will give a more accurate indication of the radon level in a house. Health Canada recommends that houses be tested for a minimum of 3 months, ideally between September and April when windows and doors are typically kept closed.
Long-term radon detectors commonly used are:
Alpha Track Detection
Electret Ion Chamber
There are two options for testing a house for radon: one is to purchase a do-it-yourself radon test kit and the other is to hire a radon measurement professional. If you choose to perform the test yourself radon detectors can be purchased over the phone, from the internet or from Northern Capital Wood Products. The radon test kits will include instructions on how to set up the test and send it back to a lab for analysis once the testing period is over. In some cases the lab analysis fees and postage are additional.
Q.What is the Canadian guideline for radon in indoor air?
A. The Canadian guideline for radon in indoor air provides Canadians with guidance on when remedial action should be taken to reduce radon levels. The Canadian Guideline is as follows:
"Remedial measures should be undertaken in a dwelling whenever the average annual radon concentration exceeds 200 becquerels per cubic metre (200 Bq/m³) in the normal occupancy area. The higher the radon concentration, the sooner remedial measures should be undertaken. When remedial action is taken, the radon levels should be reduced to a value as low as practicable. The construction of new dwellings should employ techniques that will minimize radon entry and will facilitate post-construction radon removal, should this subsequently prove necessary."
Q. How can radon affect my health?
A. Radon gas and radon progeny in the air can be breathed into the lungs where they breakdown further and emit "alpha particles". Alpha particles release small bursts of energy which are absorbed by nearby lung tissue. This results in lung cell death or damage. When lung cells are damaged, they have the potential to result in cancer when they reproduce.
The only known health risk associated with exposure to high levels of radon in indoor air is an increased lifetime risk of developing lung cancer. The risk from radon exposure is long term and depends on the level of radon, how long a person is exposed and their smoking habits. If you are a smoker and are exposed to elevated levels of radon your risk of developing lung cancer increases significantly.
On average, 16% of lung cancer deaths are attributable to radon exposure in Canada. In 2006, an estimated 1,900 lung cancer deaths in Canada were due to radon exposure. Radon is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking.
Other than lung cancer, there is no evidence that radon exposure causes other harmful health effects such as any other form of cancer, respiratory diseases such as asthma, or symptoms such as persistent coughing or headaches.