According to the World Health Organization, up to 10 percent of all lung cancers are linked to radon. The problem has been identified, the studies have provided the evidence and the solution is clear. It is time for government action right across Canada.
Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally as a result of the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. Uranium is present in varying amounts in all soils and rocks throughout the world. The radon produced in the ground escapes through porous soils and fissures in the rock of the earth’s crust. It can seep into buildings and in confined or enclosed spaces, such as a basement. It can build up to concentrations that are hazardous to human health.
Radon gas breaks down further to form other radioactive particles called “radon daughters” or “progeny.” These particles attach themselves to dust particles in the air and can be inhaled and lodge in the lungs. The radon daughters emit a form of radiation known as alpha particles. The particles deposit their energy in the lungs and can cause lung cancer. The evidence is clear.
In 2012 Health Canada published its final report on a two-year survey of radon levels in homes. With this initiative, almost 14,000 homes were tested across Canada. The results indicate than an estimated 6.9 percent of Canadians are living in homes with radon levels above Health Canada’s guideline of 200Bq/m3, with a bigger incidence of high levels in Manitoba, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and the Yukon. The study also noted that every province has areas where radon concentrations in homes are above the guideline. The fact is that radon is a naturally forming gas that comes from Mother Earth and is, therefore, present almost everywhere at some level.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year are caused by exposure to radon. Based on the study referred to above, Health Canada put the figure at 16 percent of all lung cancers in Canada that can be attributed to radon exposure.
So why don’t people and governments do something about this? We have determined that asbestos can lead to a similar fate and so, after much debate, we have stopped mining the product in Canada.
Not all scientists agree with these figures, but the bottom line is that it is an issue that remains unresolved. The human cost is obviously substantial, whomever you believe. The economic cost to provincial health care systems is staggering and preventable. What should be done?
People should test and where necessary remediate. In fact, it should be in the interest of all governments in Canada to promote this and provide financial assistance where required to remediate. Aside from saving lives, they will be saving millions in health care costs.
Radon gas cannot be seen, smelled, touched or even tasted. It is insidious. It seems that because of this “out of sight, out of mind” situation, people in general, and too many governments in particular, do not take action. Test kits are very inexpensive. They range from $20 to $55, including laboratory results.
There are long-term tests that take 90 days and short-term ones that provide at least a snap shot in time. The long-term test is preferred, so cost should not be an issue. Remediation can be as simple as installing a pipe to improve circulation; where higher concentrations exist, a fan may be required. In any event, how do we compare these costs to the cost of protecting our loved ones?
Some provinces have taken this seriously. Saskatchewan has tested schools and buildings. Ontario has introduced Bill 96, currently in committee, to educate the public, test public buildings and establish a Radon Registry. Health Canada has set up a section to deal with the issue. They are working with stakeholders to designate November as the Radon Awareness Month in Canada. This will help, but more needs to be done.
How can governments ignore the problem when the savings to the health care system alone could be in the millions? The fight against cancer is being waged by tens of thousands of people across Canada. We have a way to clearly make a difference by waking up to the deep dark secret that is killing Canadians. Doing nothing about radon gas Canada is unacceptable.