Health Canada says that one home in every 14 across Ontario contains unsafe levels of radioactive radon gas – and northwestern Ontario is at a higher risk than most across the province. 850 Ontario residents die each year from radon exposure.

The Northwestern Health Unit says that radon is a dangerous gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium that is found in rocks and soil. It gets into basements through cracks, pipes and drains. The gas can slowly build up inside of a home over time.

When breathed in, radon gas can cause damage to a person’s lung tissue, which can lead to lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer from radon gas can increase if the person breathes in large amounts of the gas over a long period of time, or if they smoke cigarettes or other tobacco products.

“When you’re exposed to radioactive gas over a long period of time, that can put you at a high risk for lung cancer,” said Lung Association of Ontario spokesperson, Sarah Butson.

“You can’t see it, taste it or smell it – but it is dangerous; particularly with long exposure and high levels of radon. It’s a leading cause of lung cancer, especially if you smoke. If you smoke and you’re exposed to radon, you’re at an even higher risk.”

In the Kenora-Rainy River District, close to one in every four (23.7 per cent) of lung cancer deaths are due to radon exposure. Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the province. In a 2013 study, the Radon Environmental Management Corporation found that northwestern Ontario had high levels of a relative radon gas hazard.

The only way to know if the gas is present is to perform a radon test in your home using a personal testing kit, or have your dwelling inspected by a professional. Based on the Canada Health guideline, exposure to radon levels “at or above 200 becquerel per metre cube of air, presents a health risk to people.”

The most common method to reduce radon gas in a home is called Active Soil Depressurization. This involves drilling a hole in the foundation floor, and installing a fan which will draw radon gas from under the foundation and inside the building, and vent the gas outside.

November is National Radon Awareness Month. Ontario is the only province that has warranty protection for excessive radon for new homes – bought within the last seven years.

The health unit presented the following safety tips to residents:

- Avoid putting bedrooms in the basement (where radon levels are the highest).

- Spend most of your time on the main levels of your home, not in the basement.

- Test to find out if there is radon in your home. Testing should take place for a minimum of three months during the winter in the lowest lived-in area of your home.

- Radon testing kits can also be purchased at most hardware stores or online.

- If your home test shows that you have unsafe levels of radon, get the problem fixed by a professional. 

For more information:
Northwestern Health Unit – Radon
Ontario Radon Map