New research from the University of Calgary suggests that one in six homes in rural Alberta have dangerous levels of radon gas. That is more than the one in eight found in Calgary.
“Right now, we have one Albertan a day diagnosed with the radon-induced lung cancer,” said Aaron Goodarzi, the Canada research chair in radiation exposure disease. “Overall, it is the No. 2 leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. It’s the No. 1 cause of lung cancer amongst non-smokers.”
If Alberta were a country, it would be among the top five on Earth, in terms of radon-exposed populations,” according to Goodarzi. It’s all because of what’s in the soil getting into homes. Radon gas is naturally occurring, odourless and deadly.
Researchers are still trying to find out why, but they are looking into a connection that suggests radon may be more common in newer homes.
“Newer houses have even a higher rate of radon in them than older properties,” Goodarzi said. “Other parts of the world, in Norway for example, it’s the reverse. Newer houses have less radon.
“What are we doing, or what are we not doing that other places are, that would suppress the radon?”
The research team at the U of C says it needs more home samples to help with the study and answer questions that scientists still have about radon exposure in Alberta homes.
“A lot of rural Alberta and small-town Alberta also contains a lot of new homes because a lot of building and growth has happened in those areas, and so yes, there is some connection there, but there may be an unknown X factor — something else in our rural areas that we don’t fully understand yet that may make folks in those areas particularly more at risk,” Goodarzi said.
Craig Snodgrass and his wife do everything they can to keep their home safe for their little ones. That’s why they decided to get their 1950s-era home near downtown High River tested for radon last year.
They were surprised by the results, which they said showed that their home had higher levels of radon than Health Canada says is acceptable.
“It’s hard for people because if you were putting a cigarette to your lips, it’s physical,” said Snodgrass, who is the mayor of High River. “You know you’re doing it. You are sucking cancer in. With this, it’s a very similar thing that is happening. It’s just you can’t see it.”
The good news is radon mitigation is fairly simple to address. The Snodgrass home is now back to safe levels after new vents were installed. The average cost is between $2,000 and $3,000.
A radon testing kit can be ordered through this program.
So far, 10,000 Alberta homes have been tested.
A home tested south of Calgary had the highest level of radon. It came in at 72 times the radon level that is linked to cancer risk. That’s equivalent to 35,995 dental x-rays a year.