By Andru McCracken

A study by Health Canada found fewer than 1 in 10 British Columbians have tested their home for radon. You may not know it but radon, a radioactive gas, is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.

You can pick up your free kit on November 19 at the Robson Valley Community Hall between 4 and 7pm or you can drop by the Village of Valemount council chambers from 11 am to 2 pm on November 18 to 20.

The program is being spearheaded by ‘Take Action on Radon,’ a coalition of national health organizations raising awareness about the health risks associated with radon.

In Valemount, the Village’s Deputy Corporate Officer Carleena Shepherd said that about 15 people reserved kits already, if you haven’t reserved, the kits are available on a first come, first serve basis.

A radon detector is placed in your home for three months and then shipped to the lab for testing. Results of the tests are only communicated to homeowners to protect their privacy. One of the program’s goals is to get overall data on the prevalence of radon in the villages.

Pam Warkentin is the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists and the Project Manager for Take Action on Radon.

“Many Canadians still don’t know that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, and that simply reducing radon exposure can save lives,” said Warkentin. “We commend the villages for their leadership in bringing attention to this cancer-causing gas and helping its residents test their homes.”

Radon is a radioactive gas that is released by the breakdown of uranium in the soil. It is odourless, tasteless, and colourless, and can enter buildings and enclosed spaces undetected. Warkentin said because Canadian homes are sealed against the weather, radon can become trapped indoors, building up to dangerous levels.

Warkentin said that long-term exposure to high levels of radon damages the DNA in lung tissue and is currently leading to over 3,000 Canadian deaths each year – more than the combined toll of car collisions, house fires, carbon monoxide poisoning and drowning combined.

Jenny Byford of the Canadian Cancer Society said lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the country, killing 58 Canadians a day.

“The reality is many of these deaths could be prevented by limiting exposure to radon. That is why we are calling on families to take action and test their homes for radon,” said Byford.

Shepherd said that there are many misconceptions about radon.

“People need to start talking about it. Testing your home for radon is simple, and there are proven and effective methods to reduce radon in your home that can save lives,” said Shepherd.

The 100 Radon Test Kit Challenge targets 15 municipalities a year across Canada where radon testing has thus far been limited, but where there is a potential for homes to have elevated radon levels. With the support of Health Canada, the Take Action on Radon program provides 100 radon test kits to each community, distributed free or for a nominal fee.

The Government of Canada recommends that homes above 200 Bq/m3 be reduced to as low as possible.

In British Columbia, Health Canada estimates that 8% of homes have radon concentrations above the radon guideline.

If the radon level is high (above 200 Bq/m3), homeowners should take action to reduce it by consulting a certified radon reduction specialist.

Warkentin said it doesn’t matter whether your house is new or old; any house that has contact with the ground is susceptible. In fact, she said some new homes are much worse.

“In Calgary, Alberta, newer homes had higher levels than older homes because they have larger footprints and are more airtight,” she said.

“We do urge everyone to test, even homes that don’t have basements. They still have ground contact,” she said.