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Much ado about radon: Dealing with the issue at home

Radon is a radioactive gas released by the decay of uranium deposits in the soil. It’s odourless and colourless, and when it’s released outdoors the low concentration poses absolutely no health risk. However, inside our homes, radon can become trapped, reaching levels that become dangerous over time. All homes have some radon, but levels vary depending on local soil deposits, type of construction, and ventilation. If the level in your home is high, it is important to take action. In fact, long-term exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. In order to protect your health, it’s necessary to test and reduce the radon level in your home if it’s high.

Radon levels above 200 Bq/m3 (a Becquerel, or Bq, is the measurement unit used for radon) are considered high, but for most homes, it’s possible to reduce the levels well below this guideline. While taking action sooner is better, Health Canada recommends taking steps within one to two years if your house has levels above the recommended guidelines. For levels above 600 Bq/m3, it’s best to take action within one year.

Mathieu Brossard is one of Health Canada’s Radiation Specialists. He confirms that there’s no need to panic if you have a high radon test result, explaining that “radon exposure is a long-term health risk. The effects are not instantaneous, so you have time to address the problem”. Experts call this radon mitigation. The first thing to do is to contact a certified mitigation professional, who can advise you on the best options for your situation.

Brossard describes mitigation strategies as a combination of closing the points of entry and diverting the radon gas away from the living space.

What does mitigation look like?

Every home is different, so your mitigation plan will be specific to your own circumstances.

Since radon makes its way into your home through unfinished crawlspaces, openings around pipes and drains, cracks, and anywhere the foundation is in contact with the soil, sealing these points of entry can help.

Opening windows or running an air exchange system can temporarily reduce radon levels, letting fresh air in and allowing the radon gas to escape outside. However, these solutions do not address the problem at its source and radon will continue to accumulate. Another option is installing a passive radon stack, which is similar to a chimney or furnace vent. This creates a passage for the radon to be vented outside. This is usually only done in new housing construction, and not in existing homes.

Active soil depressurization is the most effective way to address high radon levels. This method involves a fan system that draws radon gas from below the home and releases it outdoors. The system also reverses the air pressure difference between the house and the soil, which reduces the amount of radon drawn into the home through the foundation.

Every home is different, and a certified professional can help you determine the best course of action to ensure the work is done properly. The Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (CARST) establishes guidelines and oversees the certification of Radon Professionals. Their online tool can help you find someone in your area. Pam Warkentin is the Executive Director at CARST. She encourages all Canadians in households with high radon levels to contact a certified professional. “Radon is a problem you can solve, and it only has to be done once. It’s a simple and easy system to install. Done properly, by a certified technician, it’s quiet and energy efficient, and with very basic maintenance it will continue to work for many years.”

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