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Every year 10 million people are diagnosed with cancer (1), but according to a University of Texas study “90 – 95 percent [of cancer cases] have their roots in the environment and lifestyle” with only 5 – 10 percent being down to genetics (1). Essentially, we have a lot of power when it comes to preventing developing cancer, by limiting our exposure to cancer-causing agents.
However, you could be living a healthy lifestyle – with a balanced diet and regular exercise – but still be exposed to dangerous agents in your own home.
One such cancer-causing agent is radon, which is found in almost every home, but in varying levels (3). Radon is a radioactive gas produced naturally by the breakdown of uranium in the ground. It can then enter homes in a variety of ways such as through cracks in foundations, gaps around service pipes, floor drains, or through dirt floors, to name a few (4).
Radon is odorless and invisible, making it undetectable, and allowing it to build to dangerous levels in confined spaces like the home. Although radon is present throughout the year, it is particularly prevalent in the fall and winter months. This is because during this time of year we ventilate our homes a lot less (2). Even at low levels, this accumulation in sealed or poorly ventilated areas can pose a serious health hazard.
How Is Radon Harmful?
As the gas breaks down in the air, it creates radioactive particles that release bursts of energy. You inhale these particles by simply breathing the air in your home, and they can continue to break down inside your lungs. The particles continue the release of energy, which is then absorbed by your lung tissue, causing damage to the cells.
Over a long enough period of exposure, if more lung cells are damaged, when they reproduce, this could result in the development of cancer. Unfortunately, this is a very common issue – radon is second only to smoking as the leading cause of lung cancer (4). If you are already a smoker, it triples the likelihood that you will develop lung cancer (3).
How To Test for Radon
Thankfully it is super easy to test the radon levels in your home with a radon testing kit. They are available to buy online, or from hardware stores and usually only cost around $30 – $100.
Typically you leave the test in a well lived-in area of the home, preferably in a room in the lower house, for a minimum of three months. It’s best to do this in the winter months as this gives the most representative reading (2). The kit is then sent to a laboratory where the data is collected, interpreted, and sent back to you.
If you would prefer you can also hire a certified technician to measure radon levels in your abode, but this is considerably more expensive!
What If The Test Shows High Levels of Radon?
Radon is measured in becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m³). If the test comes back as higher than the government-recommended maximum of 200 becquerels per cubic meter, you need to take steps to reduce it. The higher over the limit, the more pressing the need to reduce the levels becomes.
You can get the best advice for a solution from a certified radon mitigation professional, but one of the most popular solutions is a sub-slab depressurization. This solution involves building a pipe beneath the house, connected to an exterior fan, which draws radon from under the house, and disposes of it before it can enter your home. This can reduce levels of radon by up to 90 percent, so is incredibly efficient (4)!
Other solutions involve increasing ventilation in the home and sealing radon entry points, though these are less effective.
If you are concerned that your home may be exposed to radon gas, you can check out this Environmental Protection Agency radon map. Even if radon in your area is typically low, it might be worth buying a testing kit and checking the levels anyway. You can then be certain that you’re safe, or take the right steps to ensure your family is protected into the future!
1. Anand, P., et al. Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes. Pharmaceutical Research. 2008; 25(9): 2097 – 2116. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515569. Published September 25, 2008. Accessed August 26, 2016.
2. How to Test for Radon?. Hc-scgc. 2016. Available at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/radiation/radon/testing-analyse-eng.php. Modified July 30, 2014. Accessed August 26, 2016.
3. Radon: is it in your home? [Health Canada, 2009]. Hc-scgc. 2016. Available at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/radiation/radon_brochure/index-eng.php. Modified July 27, 2016. Accessed August 26, 2016.
4. Testing your home for radon. Healthycanadiansgcca. 2016. Available at: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/security-securite/radiation/radon/home-test-maison-eng.php. Modified October 13, 2015. Accessed August 26, 2016.