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Radon worth testing for in some Nelson homes

Michael Jessen, Nelson director with the BC Lung Association, holds a radon detector available at the Regional District of Central Kootenay offices.  - Kirsten Hildebrand photo
Michael Jessen, Nelson director with the BC Lung Association, holds a radon detector available at the Regional District of Central Kootenay offices.
— image credit: Kirsten Hildebrand photo

The West Kootenay is a known hot spot for the colourless, odourless gas that can cause cancer — radon.

And while Nelson doesn’t seem to have as much of the radioactive gas that naturally occurs when uranium in the soil and rocks break down, it is worth paying attention to.

“There are pockets,” said Michael Jessen, the Nelson director with the BC Lung Association.

He suggests people who live in areas where soil and gravel have been disturbed test the air quality in their homes just to be sure.

“We go about our daily lives without knowing it’s there,” said Jessen. “There’s no panic about it but as with many things, we should err on the side of caution.”

Radon detectors are available from the Regional District of Central Kootenay offices for a small donation. Jessen explained testing should occur in the area of the house where owners spend eight hours or more per day. If this is on the home’s lower level, the detector should be placed at ground level. Testing should be done for three months.

“It’s best to do it in winter months when doors and windows are most likely to be closed,” he said.

Radon is the second highest source of cancer to cigarettes smoking. It has significant effects on health damaging lung cells that could then turn cancerous when they reproduce. The risk depends on both the level of radon and the length of exposure. In combination, radon and cigarette smoke have an alarming impact.

“A person who is a heavy smoker and has exposure to radon, above allowable limits, they have a one in three chance of getting lung cancer,” said Jessen.

New guidelines for acceptable levels of radon in a home are 200 Becquerels per cubic metre. This is down from the former 800 Bq per cubic metre. The BC Lung Association said at that level “the risk for a non-smoker is higher than for all common accidental deaths combined.”

“If we take precautions against accidental deaths by wearing seatbelts and lifejackets and by ensuring that our smoke detectors are working, we should also be testing our homes for radon.”

If radon is found at unacceptable levels in one’s home, remediation can help. From allowing for air exchange, to sealing cracks in the foundation and floors, work can cost anywhere from $50 to $3,000. Fixing the problem protects the value of the home.

Jessen volunteers with the BC Lung Association because of concerns about poor air quality its impact on health.

“If you can’t breath, nothing else matters,” he said. “Clean air is so vital to our health.”

In addition to cigarette smoke and radon, other causes of bad air include pollution from automobiles, backyard burning and wood stoves, explained Jessen.

“Just because we’re not in the Lower Mainland doesn’t mean cars aren’t causing bad air,” he said. “If 10,000 cars pass through, that’s all that’s needed for lung problems. There are 18,000 vehicles passing through Nelson at the peak on a summer’s day.”

Jessen said ICBC has 10,000 registered vehicles in a six mile radius around Nelson.

For more information on radon and testing ones home, check out www.bc.lung.ca or www.healthcanada.gc.ca/radon

For more preventative information on various health issues, there are ongoing lunch meetings at the Community First Health Co-op on Wednesdays.

 

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