Officials are warning people in the Okanagan to get their homes tested for radon.
The potentially deadly, odorless and radioactive gas can’t be detected unless it’s tested for.
“Radon can be anywhere,” David Kilby, of Pillar to Post Home Inspectors, said. “Radon can definitely affect your health, and it can kill you, so please, get radon testing done.”
Radon comes from the breakdown of uranium in the ground. It seeps into homes through foundation cracks, drains and even construction joints.
“Basements have cracks. Period. Concrete is porous. And radon is a gas, so it can leak through,” Kilby said.
READ MORE: Keeping radon levels down in your home
Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer after smoking and is responsible for as many as 16 per cent of lung cancer deaths.
More than 3,000 Canadians die from radon-induced lung cancer each year.
“Inside your lungs, it breaks down and gives off something called an alpha particle, which is radioactive,” Simon Fraser University health sciences professor Anne-Marie Nicol said.
Over time, that can cause a tumor, she added.
“We put on sunscreen and hats to protect ourselves from the sun, and we make sure that there isn’t any asbestos in our homes,” Lindsay Forsman-Phillips, a spokesperson for CAREX Canada, said. “We should do the same thing about radon.”
Approximately 17 per cent of Okanagan homes test above provincial guidelines for radon, according to Nicol.
In particular, Kelowna, Penticton and Salmon Arm are particularly bad, she added.
“There’s uranium in the soil all across Canada, but there’s just more here, so there’s more potential for people to be exposed, and that’s why there’s a problem,” Nicol said.
But it’s impossible to predict high radon levels between neighbouring houses without testing.
“Your home can be completely different in terms of airflow than the home next to you,” Nicol said. “So you may both have uranium in the soil under your home, but how your home is built, its air tightness, whether or not you’ve done renovations, all of these things really influence the level of radon inside.”
“A recent study showed that newer homes, those built in the 2000s or later, actually have higher levels inside than older homes which are leakier and tend to lose energy,” Nicol said. “So we’re actually making the problem worse with some of our construction techniques.”
A radon test looks like a small hockey puck and costs between $40 to $60. It should be left downstairs for about three months and then mailed to a lab.
The best time to test for the radioactive gas is in winter when doors and windows are mostly closed.
If radon levels are high, sealing cracks could help, or a mitigation system might be required.
A radon information session will be held at 7 p.m. at Kelowna’s Community Health and Services Centre on 505 Doyle Avenue on Tuesday.