Radon workshop at Barriere Volunteer Centre well attended

High levels of radon increases your risk of developing lung cancer, but the risk from radon exposure is long term

Approximately 50 people turned out for a talk on radon on Nov. 21 at the Barriere Volunteer Centre.

Radon is a radioactive gas that is produced naturally by the breakdown of uranium in the ground and can get into your home undetected. It is invisible, odorless and tasteless. Some level of radon can be found in most homes.

The main issue with radon is that it is a gas and can therefore be inhaled. Once in the lungs, it continues to decay, creating radioactive particles that release small bursts of energy. This energy is absorbed by the lung tissue, damaging the cells and potentially resulting in cancer.

Unlike smoking, occasional exposure to radon does not produce any symptoms, such as coughing or headaches. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking, but not everyone exposed to radon will develop cancer.

High levels of radon increases your risk of developing lung cancer, but the risk from radon exposure is long term and depends on three things: the level of radon, how long you are exposed, and your smoking habits. It is important to note that exposure to radon combined with tobacco use can significantly increase your risk of lung cancer.

For example, if you are a lifelong smoker but are not exposed to radon, your risk of getting lung cancer is one in 10. 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 20.

Once you’ve tested your home, should you find that you do have high levels of radon, there are a number of things that can be done to reduce those levels.

• Increase the ventilation in the basement to allow an exchange of air

• Seal all cracks and openings in foundation walls and floors, and around pipes and drains

• Paint basement floors and foundation walls with two coats of paint and a sealant

• Ventilate the basement sub-flooring by installing a small pump to draw the radon from below the concrete slab to the outside before it can enter your house

• Renovate existing basement floors, particularly earth floors.

For each home, the steps to take may vary – one home may already have all the cracks and openings in the foundation walls and floors dealt with, and may already have them sealed with paint and sealant, and may only require increasing the ventilation. Another home may only need to ventilate the basement sub-flooring, while their neighbor may not need any steps at all, as they tested okay. Every home is different and can have totally different levels from the one next door.

The only way to find out if your house has a radon problem is to measure the radon concentration inside it. Those who attended the workshop on Monday were given a free radon test kit. Those who missed the workshop can contact BC Lung Association at 1-800-665-5864 or via email at info@bc.lung.ca for information on how to get one of the kits (the kits can also be obtained for a small fee from some hardware stores).

For more information, visit www.healthcanada.gc.ca/radon, where there is background on radon, how it affects your health, and how to reduce the levels in your home.

– Margaret Houben – North Thompson Star/Journal