Al­ber­tans urged to test for radon gas in homes

Edmonton Journal - - CITY - JAMES WOOD jwood@post­media.com

CAL­GARY 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. The re­search is ex­pand­ing 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 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 radon.

Along with the “gold stan­dard” 90-day test, 1,000 par­tic­i­pants in the pro­gram will be given a five-day test to try 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 child-care pro­grams to have their lo­ca­tions tested for radon be­fore li­cences are is­sued or re­newed.

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.

Dr. Aaron Goodarzi

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