Faced with a seemingly infinite number of environmental health issues to work on at CELA, we make choices. Guided by population health approaches, we focus attention on issues where the stakes are high and large numbers of people are affected. Radon qualifies.
There is no debate that radon causes cancer. It kills about 3300 Canadians a year and that’s a lot. Compared to other indoor pollutants, and using cancer risk lingo, the “lifetime excess cancer risk” from radon is orders of magnitude greater.
Whether or not you’ve seen the Public Service or TV ads from the Holmes father/son team, a summary:
- Radon gas is a radioactive indoor pollutant
- Radon is the second leading cause of death from lung cancer in Canada (after smoking)
- It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in the ground and enters building foundations, getting trapped indoors, even more so as we tighten buildings for energy efficiency
- Radon can only be detected via testing – a three-month test that needs to occur while doors and windows are closed up for winter
The federal government, especially Health Canada, has not generally dazzled anyone in recent years with action on environmental health threats. But for radon, they have done a great job. The list is long including valuable research and testing programs, updating the National Building Code, creating a Canadian certification program for radon mitigation professionals, and continuing to run extensive public outreach on the need to test.
A quibble is leaving the Canadian radon guideline at 200 Bq/m3 (bequerels per cubic metre, a measure of the number of radioactive disintegrations per second). We agree with the David Suzuki Foundation, and others, that this number is based on out-of-date science and is double the 100 Bq/m3 level recommended by the World Health Organization.
Nevertheless, the feds should be commended. They have tested over 19,000 federal buildings and about 18,000 residences across Canada and concluded that about 7% of homes in Canada (about 600,000 dwellings) have radon levels above the Canadian guideline.
Some areas are known to be more of a problem. Up to 50% of homes have high radon levels in parts of Manitoba, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, and Yukon. But, radon occurs in all homes at some level and every home should be tested.
In our work in the Green Budget Coalition, CELA is again calling on the federal government to provide Canadians with a tax credit to help offset radon mitigation costs. Mitigation involves diverting radon away from a foundation and can run between $500 and $3000 per house. This tax measure would be revenue neutral as it would be offset by increased tax revenues from businesses conducting radon remediation.
A tax credit is especially necessary for existing homes. Recent and ongoing changes to provincial Building Codes have resulted, for the most part, in radon protection measures. Given the seriousness of this issue, our recent Radon Policy Challenge to provincial and territorial leaders seeks a comprehensive, health-focused approach to legislative reforms at the provincial level where most jurisdiction rests relevant to radon.
For most of us, radon testing is a key first step. But, public uptake of Health Canada’s message about the need to test has been limited. It seems to be human nature to more easily avoid action on something you can’t see/smell/taste, etc., and when you know action might cost money. A federal tax credit would send a strong signal to Canadians to take this issue more seriously and help them pay for it, should remediation be needed. Hopefully the feds will take this logical next step in their radon work and create tax relief for homeowners.
And, being January, it is not too late for you to test. Since for most Canadians doors and windows will likely still be closed up for another three months, order a test kit today. Find out more at Take Action on Radon.