Has your home been tested for radon? Here’s why it’s important

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It is concerning that Manitoba is the second leading province with homes having radon levels higher than Health Canada’s guidelines. According to Health Canada, about 19 per cent of Manitobans are living above the radon guideline of 200 Bq/m3*

Why is this bad?

It’s bad because long-term exposure to high levels of radon increases the risk of lung cancer. About 200 Manitobans a year are diagnosed with lung cancers linked to radon. This figure includes both people who have never smoked, and current smokers.
 

*(Becquerel per cubic meter is a measure of radioactivity. For reference, the World Health Organization recommends a limit of 100 to 300 Bq/m3).

What exactly is radon?


What is radon? Lung Sask

Radon is a colourless and odourless gas. It rises from the breakdown of naturally occurring radioactive elements, including uranium in rocks and soil. It’s not a problem when radon mixes with the air outside. It’s when it seeps into enclosed spaces that it is harmful. Radon can get into houses through cracks and gaps in the floors, pipes, window wells, and side walls. And since it’s a gas, we don’t even realize that it’s mixed in with the air we’re breathing.

The basement or the lowest floor of the home is usually where you’ll find the presence of radon. Winter is when the levels are highest. This is the season when we close our windows and doors, and most of us stay inside.

Do we need to panic about radon?

For radon to be harmful, exposure has to be long term and at a high level. It is not cause for panic, but it is wise to be proactive about it. It’s important to ensure that your home’s air quality is safe for you and your family. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Test for radon

    You can hire a professional or test for radon yourself. Home testing kits are available commercially or through Manitoba Provincial Association providers. The cost of the test can range from $50 to $100. This device is left in place at your home for three months, after which it is sent to a laboratory for analysis. The laboratory will report your radon test results after analyzing the device.

    • If it comes back low (below 200 Bq/m3) – No action is required, but it is recommended that you continue to lower your home’s radon levels by taking other measures (see #3 below). Also, radon levels fluctuate. This is why testing every five years would be the best practice.
    • If it comes back high (higher than 200 Bq/m3) – Contact a certified radon mitigation professional. They can figure out where the radon is coming from and make necessary recommendations and repairs.
  2. Active Sub-Slab Depressurization (or Active Soil Depressurization)

    This is the most effective method of reducing radon in homes. It can decrease radon levels by 90 per cent or greater. This is a process where a mitigation professional fits a pipe along the basement or foundation. A fan will also be attached. This fan will run continuously to draw the gas outside your home and release it outdoors.

    This can be a costly procedure. Check if you qualify for financial help by checking programs from Manitoba Hydro and Lungs Matter. If your home was built recently, it should have a radon stub pipe in the foundation, as required by the Manitoba building code. This is not the complete system, but a rough-in. A certified mitigation professional would be able to check this and provide you with a plan.

  3. Other steps to reduce radon levels:

    • Seal entry points. Use caulk to seal points where radon gets into your home. These include cracks and sump holes on your basement floor, as well as spaces around pipes and drains.
    • Install specially designed traps on floor drains in your basement.
    • Increase ventilation in your home. Open your windows when the weather allows. You can also choose to install a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) to increase air flow in your home.

If you’re living in a rental apartment, ask your landlord if your unit has been tested for radon. You can also choose to test for it yourself. Discuss the laboratory results with your landlord before taking steps. This is important especially if the test shows high levels of radon and the mitigation will require major work.

Where can I get more information?

More radon-related information may be found at:

  1. Radon, Manitoba Health
  2. Take Action on Radon
  3. Radon Reduction Guide for Canadians
  4. CAREX Canada’s resources on exposure to radon gas
  5. Radon, Canadian Cancer Society

 
Sources: Radon, Manitoba Government; Radon Kits, Breathe, the lung association; How to test for radon, Take Action on Radon; Indoor air quality and ventilation, Manitoba Hydro. Accessed January 18, 2024.

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