Tests for dan­ger­ous gas urged for homes across Al­berta

Calgary Sun - - NEWS - JAMES WOOD jwood@postmedia.com @JamesWoodPress

After dis­cov­er­ing a sig­nif­i­cant health threat in many Calgary homes, Univer­sity of Calgary re­searchers are turn­ing their at­ten­tion to the rest of the province as they urge Al­ber­tans to test their homes for radon gas.

The “Evict Radon” cam­paign launched Tues­day calls on provin­cial res­i­dents to have their homes tested for the car­cino­gen, both to im­prove safety and bol­ster data col­lec­tion.

Aaron Goodarzi and his team at the Cum­ming School of Medicine re­leased a study ear­lier this year that found one in eight Calgary homes tested ex­ceeded Health Canada’s ac­cept­able radon lev­els, with the sit­u­a­tion 30 per cent more likely to oc­cur in homes built in the past 25 years.

Now the re­search is be­ing ex­panded to the rest of the province.

“The ge­ol­ogy of Al­berta is such that the ma­jor­ity of where ev­ery­body is liv­ing has a huge radon po­ten­tial, mean­ing the nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring min­er­als in the ground are gen­er­at­ing radon through­out the whole province,” Goodarzi, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in the de­part­ments of bio­chem­istry and molec­u­lar bi­ol­ogy and on­col­ogy, said in an in­ter­view Tues­day.

Radon is an odour­less, colour­less and taste­less el­e­ment pro­duced by the ra­dioac­tive de­cay of underground ura­nium min­er­als that can be drawn up and con­cen­trated in­side build­ings. It is the sec­ond high­est cause of lung cancer, and ex­po­sure causes the deaths of about 3,200 Cana­di­ans a year, ac­cord­ing to Lung Cancer Canada.

The Evict Radon cam­paign — which is open to res­i­dents across the province, in­clud­ing Calgary — sees Al­ber­tans pur­chase a radon test­ing kit through the U of C at a cost of $60. Par­tic­i­pants take part in a sur­vey to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion about their homes and the re­sults of the test are shared con­fi­den­tially with the re­searchers.

Goodarzi said the cam­paign is also em­pha­siz­ing in par­tic­u­lar the need for test­ing of homes with young chil­dren, who are most vul­ner­a­ble to the im­pact of radon.

Along with the “gold stan­dard” 90-day test, 1,000 par­tic­i­pants in the pro­gram will be given a five-day test to try in or­der to look at the ef­fi­cacy of short-term test­ing as a guide­line for stake­hold­ers.

Re­me­di­a­tion of a home with high radon lev­els usu­ally costs be­tween $2,000 and $2,500, and con­sists of in­stalling a pipe through the base­ment floor with a fan at­tached to draw the radon out.

Build­ing code changes in 2015 re­quired new homes to have a rough-in pipe to make it easy to in­stall a radon re­duc­tion sys­tem if needed.

Goodarzi said im­proved data from the new study could point to the need for fur­ther pol­icy changes, such as gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies for radon re­duc­tion sim­i­lar to en­ergy ef­fi­ciency grants or manda­tory test­ing for fa­cil­i­ties where chil­dren gather.

Robyn Luff, the NDP MLA for Calgary-East, in­tro­duced a pri­vate mem­ber’s bill Tues­day that would re­quire the gov­ern­ment to de­velop ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­ri­als and a public aware­ness cam­paign around the dan­gers of radon gas.

It would also re­quire child­care pro­grams to have their lo­ca­tions tested for radon be­fore li­cences are is­sued or re­newed.

In an in­ter­view, Luff said Goodarzi’s work was the im­pe­tus be­hind the leg­is­la­tion, which has the sup­port of NDP cau­cus mem­bers but is not ex­pected to be passed in the fall sit­ting of the leg­is­la­ture.

“It was just some­thing that I thought no one was re­ally do­ing any­thing about and prob­a­bly the gov­ern­ment could help ed­u­cate peo­ple,” she said.

The Al­berta Real Es­tate Foun­da­tion is pro­vid­ing $150,000 for the Evict Radon cam­paign.

Natalie Scol­lard of the Real Es­tate Coun­cil of Al­berta said radon gas is an is­sue in­creas­ingly on the radar for buy­ers and sell­ers of homes.

“The message we’re try­ing to get out is that it’s a very solv­able is­sue,” she said.

PostmediA File

Univer­sity of Calgary re­searchers Dr. Aaron Goodarzi, right, and first au­thor Fin­tan Stan­ley found this year ra­dioac­tive radon gas ex­ceeds safe lev­els in one in eight Calgary homes.

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