Northern Health warns of carcinogen

By Korie Marshall

The second leading cause of lung cancer could be in your home, and the only way you can know is to test for it.

“We don’t have a lot of data from the Robson Valley, but we know enough about the radon concentrations in Northern Health and the rest of the province,” says Barb Oke, Healthy Community Environments Lead for Northern Health. “There is every indication that there would be some homes that are high in radon concentration in the Robson Valley.”

Radon causes approximately 10 per cent of all lung cancers worldwide, says Northern Health, second only to tobacco smoke.

Oke says there have been other studies that have shown possible links between radon and other cancers, but lung cancer is the only proven link so far.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that you cannot see or smell. It is created from the decay of uranium in soils and rocks, and it can seep into homes through openings like floor drains, and cracks in foundations.

Oke says it is the number one carcinogen in people’s homes, it is not very expensive to test for, and it is not hard to remedy if you find your home has radon.

Health Minister Terry Lake said in a statement that over 3,000 British Columbians will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year alone. According to the statistics, that means 300 British Columbians will get cancer this year because of radon exposure.

The Ministry of Health says it is important for people to protect themselves from long term radon exposure, especially in communities in the Interior and the North, where radon levels can be higher.

Oke says the risk for radon in a home can vary depending on how the home is constructed and used. Airtight homes and certain heating systems can actually increase the concentration of radon, but she also recommends that mobile homes be tested, because although the risk is less in a home with no basement, you can’t know unless you test.

Representatives from Northern Health will be coming to Valemount for the Open House on Nov. 28 at the Community Centre starting at 4:00 pm. Oke will actually be at the Air Quality table, but Tiffany Bonnett from the Fraser Basin Council will be at the Radon table, and test kits will be available.

Northern Health’s kits are long-term radon detectors, the type recommended by Health Canada, that you leave in your home for between three and 12 months, and then send to a lab for analysis. The kits include shipping and the lab fees, and are normally $30, but in recognition of November being Lung Cancer Awareness month, they are only $20.

Kits are usually available from hardware stores as well, generally for less than $60, but residents can also call or email Northern Health to have a test kit shipped to them.

Northern Health launched its radon strategy in 2009, and has sold approximately 400 detection kits. About 40 per cent of kits returned so far have shown radon levels near or above Health Canada guidelines; the rest have been well below.

Northern Health is also encouraging people who have purchased radon test kits between 2009 and 2010 to submit their units for testing.

The Ministry of Health says the BC government has taken steps to protect the public against radon exposure, including education campaigns targeted to high risk areas like the Interior and Northern BC; additions to the BC building code in 2012 that require new homes to be prepared for radon mitigation; and investing $1 million with the BC Lung Association to develop radon mitigation capacity in the building industry.

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