Radon gas is not at the forefront of most people’s minds; it is odourless and colourless, but it is prevalent in B.C.’s Interior and it can cause lung cancer.
The Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) board of directors got a crash course in the negative health impacts of radon gas as part of an outreach tour which is also including presentations for local governments and the pubic in Sicamous and Salmon Arm.
The presentation to the CSRD was given by Lindsay Forsman-Phillips of CAREX Canada; Micky Leung from Health Canada and Chantal Wilson of Little Bear Engineering.
CAREX Canada is a national surveillance project which strives to estimate the number of Canadians who are being exposed to substances that cause cancer.
Little Bear Engineering is a Revelstoke-based firm specializing in radon measurement and mitigation.
The directors heard how radon is produced by decaying uranium in rocks and soil. Danger from the gas comes when it enters buildings through openings in the foundation and becomes trapped there, eventually reaching dangerous concentrations in some cases.
A map provided by the presenters showed that the Southern Interior of B.C. and the southern Rockies in particular had high concentrations of radon.
The presenters stated that exposure to radon gas can lead to lung cancer and is, in fact, the leading cause of lung cancer in Canadians who do not smoke.
Test kits are available that can measure the radon concentration in homes. One of the CSRD board directors shared a personal experience involving radon testing and mitigation.
Gary Sulz, the mayor of Revelstoke, had his home tested and found that the concentration of Radon was far above safe levels.
Health Canada guidelines state radon levels are a cause for concern when they exceed 200 Becquerels, which is a measure of radioactivity, per cubic metre.
Sulz’s home tested at 4500 Bq/m3. The radon levels were thrown into sharp relief by the fact that Sulz’s father-in-law, who had built the original part of the house in 1948, had died of lung cancer years ago.
“We will never know the exact cause, but I have vowed to mitigate my home to protect my family, my grandchildren,” said a visibly emotional Sulz.
Sulz said the mitigation work was minimally invasive in his home and the cost was fairly inexpensive.
Board chair Rhona Martin spoke about the radon testing done at the former pre-school building at the Malakwa Elementary site. The pre-school building which is leased by a local community association, also tested positive for radon.
“The results were telling us that we had to do something,”
Martin said mitigation work for the school building was fairly expensive but was payed for with gas tax funds.
“You just wonder about are all public buildings being tested and are people aware they should be testing their homes?” Martin asked.
The presenters who informed the CSRD board also put on a public information session in Salmon Arm on Jan. 14 where they offered free radon test kits; they will present to Sicamous council during their committee of the whole meeting on Jan. 16.