Radon at large in Castlegar

We’ve been hearing a lot about Castlegar as a hot spot for radon emissions and the related problems of lung cancer. In fact, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control listed Castlegar household radon levels as the second-highest in British Columbia.

So I stopped in at Golder Associates last winter and picked up a radon kit to test my home.

They gave me a tiny device that I hung in my basement for three months to see how much radon gas was leaking into my home. After the test period, I returned the test device to Golder Associates, who forwarded it to a laboratory for analysis.  All of this was done free of charge.

You can imagine my relief when the radon results for my home came back, and the test readings were low.  In fact, my house radon level scored 158 bequerels per cubic metre, which is below the Canadian standard now set at 200.

That was not the case with a home owned by a friend of mine. His home tested in the 1,500 bequerels per cubic metre range, clearly more than seven times the acceptable level. For a few days, he was terrified. Had his family already been affected by the high radon levels, and were they on the verge of getting cancer?

Rather than simply remaining terrified, he decided to do something about the problem.

He had a sub-floor ventilation pipe installed with a fan to clear the air in his house. He spent about $2,000, but the improvement in the subsequent radon test was startling. His new reading placed him far below the 200 level. And now he can breathe a sigh of relief.

You’ll ask: Why?

The reason is that the higher the level of radon emissions into your home, the greater the risk of death from lung cancer. At the Canadian standard of 200 bequerels per cubic metre, the risk of getting lung cancer is about three per cent. However, according to some studies, detector readings at 1,500 bequerels per cubic metre create a risk as high as 22 per cent.

So, one in five people with high radon readings in their homes are in danger of getting lung cancer. That risk is even higher if the homeowner is a current smoker, moving from 22 per cent risk to 52 per cent. That means that every second smoker with high radon readings in Castlegar could contract cancer.

The Donna Schmidt Memorial Radon Abatement group has distributed nearly 800 detectors throughout Castlegar in the past two years with more than 600 returned. The typical exposures listed for Castlegar indicate that 46 per cent of homes tested are above Canadian standards.

The hot spots are wide-spread. Your home may show readings below normal while your neighbour’s radon readings may be extremely high. No single section of Castlegar is better or worse than another. It all depends on the nature of the leakage from the rocks and granite beneath your home site.

Many people with high radon readings in their homes have already installed ventilation pipes. Others have spent time filling cracks in their basement floors. Through Castlegar Rotary and the Donna Schmidt Memorial Radon Abatement Fund, a few owners will receive support to have their homes freed of these high levels.

In fact, Rotary is currently carrying out a project on one home where the readings are above 1000 bequerels per cubic metre.

In future, new homes will likely have to be built as radon-resistant units under the new provincial building code being readied for fall 2011. Castlegar City Council is ready to adopt this new code.

However, this new code will not help the current situation of homes in Castlegar. The sooner your home is tested, the sooner you will know what to do.

Test kits are available at the City of Castlegar and Golder Associates, or contact Dana Schmidt directly.

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