By Taylor MacPherson
You can’t see it, smell it or taste it, but unhealthy levels of radon gas may be seeping into your basement.
Richard Kopp first became aware of the dangers of radon gas in his Maple Creek home after reading a brief news piece on the subject. Concerned, he sent away for a $42 testing kit from the Government of Saskatchewan.
After leaving the radon sampler in place for a full month as instructed, Kopp sent the kit back to Environmental Services to have the sample analyzed. Less than a day later, he recieved an email with the results: Kopp’s basement had tested 35 per cent higher than the maximum acceptable concentration for radon gas.
“We’ve been breathing this stuff in for 10 years,” Kopp told the News-Times.
Kopp’s basement tested at 270.9 becquerels (Bq) per cubic metre, a measurement of the radioactivity present in the air. In 2007, Health Canada lowered their guideline for the maximum acceptable concentration from 800 becquerels to 200.
Test results in hand, Kopp began researching different methods of radon-proofing his basement. Radon can enter homes through any unsealed opening in a basement, including sumps, foundation cracks, floor drains and wall joints. Typically, radon-proofing involves sealing as many of these gaps as possible.
Luckily, Kopp knows his way around a workshop, and was able to perform much of the work himself with the help of online guides.
“By the time the dust settles I’ll be out probably $500,” says Kopp, who has sealed several openings in his basement floor and plans to install a special radon fan in his sump. “If you were to hire a contractor you’d be looking at about $1,500.”
After Kopp’s repairs are completed, he plans to re-test his basement’s radon levels to ensure levels have been reduced to an acceptable level.
Radon is a radioactive gas created by the natural decay of uranium in the ground. When radon particles are inhaled, they can become trapped in the lungs and damage tissue.
Because it is colourless, odourless and tasteless, many homes have high radon levels for years without being detected.
A two-year study performed by Health Canada in 2009 concluded that as many as seven per cent of Canadian homes have high levels of radon, and that certain areas of the country were more succeptable than others (although no area is completely radon free).
The Lung Association of Saskatchewan acknowledges an increased risk in the province, where high concentrations of uranium in the ground make southern Saskatchewan a “hot spot” for radon gas. Other Canadian “hot spots” include New Brunswick, Manitoba and the Yukon.
In 2014, as many as 16 per cent of homes in Saskatchewan (and 25 per cent of homes in the Cypress Health Region) tested above the acceptable maximum.
If high levels of radon go unchecked, Canadians may be exposing themselves to serious health risks.
According to Heath Canada, “long-term exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer and the leading cause of lung cancer for people who have never smoked.”
Kopp’s home was built in 2006, but newer construction is no guarantee of safety from radon seepage. In fact, Kopp believes the holes cut for his modern in-floor heating system may have contributed to his higher radon levels.
“People don’t talk about it,” says Kopp, who is concerned for his neighbors. “You have a lot of homes in Maple Creek that have wooden basements.”
Kopp added that these residents “could be in for some serious trouble” if testing is not performed.
Indoor radon testing kits are available through the Saskatchewan Research Council, or testing can be performed by a licensed professional.