The number of homes exposed to increased levels of radon in Westman is well above the national average, according to a survey performed by Health Canada.
Radon, a colourless, odourless radioactive gas found naturally in the environment, has been proven to increase a person’s lifetime probability of getting lung cancer if exposed to elevated levels for a long period of time.
"Manitoba has higher levels of radon than the national average," said Dr. Susan Roberecki, medical lead for environmental health for the province.
Manitoba has the second highest incidence of radon above Health Canada’s 200 becquerels per metre cubed. Across the province, 23.7 per cent of homes are above 200 Bq/m3 — broke down as 18.7 per cent of homes ranging between 200-600 Bq/m3 and the remaining 2.6 per cent of homes above 600 Bq/m3.
In Westman however, the numbers are staggeringly higher. In the former Brandon Regional Health Authority region, 44.3 per cent of the 79 homes that were tested were found to be above Health Canada’s guidelines. In the former Parkland Regional Health Authority, 43.4 per cent of the 122 homes were above the standard.
Roberecki cautioned that only long-term exposure to radon could cause lung cancer and even still, the incidence remains relatively low. However, she said the numbers drastically change when smoking and increased levels of radon are combined.
"It’s a long-term risk and it increases your risk for cancer, but it’s not something that if you’re exposed to for a short time that it is going to have a major impact," Roberecki said. "If you are a smoker and you are exposed to increased level of radon, then your chances of developing lung cancer increases, but smoking is still the main factor."
Health Canada estimates that a smoker exposed to radon levels of 200 Bq/m3 for 70 years has a 17 per cent lifetime chance of developing lung cancer, compared to two per cent for a non-smoker. The risk for a smoker exposed to radon levels of 800 Bq/m3 over the same time period increases to 30 per cent compared to five per cent for a non-smoker. So while a non-smokers probability changes only four per cent when the radon level is quadrupled, a smoker’s probability of developing lung cancer goes up 13 per cent.
For that reason, Roberecki said it’s important to mitigate the possibility of being exposed to high levels of radon for an extended period of time, especially because it’s something that’s easy to do.
"It’s a known carcinogen and it’s prudent to reduce your risk to radon because of it’s connection to lung cancer if you can," Roberecki said.
She said simply increasing ventilation to allow for proper air flow or sealing up earth floors can drastically reduce the amount of radon in a home.
"It’s difficult to predict which homes will be affected depending on how the house is built and the ventilation," Roberecki said.
While it’s difficult to predict which homes have elevated levels of radon, testing kits can be purchased at most major home improvement retailers and cost about $15 with another $15 charge for lab testing.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 26, 2013