Homeowners in Brandon might want to consider having their buildings checked for radon.
A study of 75 homes in the city conducted last year by the national group Take Action on Radon showed 25 homes — or 37 per cent of those tested — have radon levels above the Health Canada guideline.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas created by decaying radioactive elements in the earth that can rise into underground areas like basements.
The gas is measured in becquerels per cubed metre, with 200 becquerels per cubed metre being the point where Health Canada recommends that homeowners do something to mitigate the amount of the gas in their homes. A single becquerel represents a quantity of radioactive material where one atomic nucleus decays per second.
Inhaling elevated levels of the gas can lead to higher chances of getting lung cancer.
"Radon decays and releases energy, which can damage the DNA tissue in our lungs," said Pam Warkentin, project manager for Take Action on Radon and the executive director of the Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists. "Our skin tends to protect us from it because of the durability of our skin and the type of energy it releases in the decay process, but our lung tissue is more fragile."
She added that the risk from radon exposure is linear, so it increases as the exposure amount and duration of exposure increase.
"If you spend 10 years being exposed to a high level, your risk is higher than someone who spends one year at a high level or less time at a low level," she said.
Brandon was one of 15 communities included in last year’s study, and another 20 communities will be participating this winter. Warkentin said the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation was a big help in conducting the local study.
While there was a provincial study conducted in the 1990s and a national study in 2010 that involved some tests being performed in Brandon, Warkentin said last year’s test was the first of its kind focusing specifically on the city.
The 2010 survey found there were an average of 19 per cent of homes higher than the Health Canada guideline in Brandon, compared to 37 per cent in the latest test.
Testing procedures have changed since the 90s, with Health Canada deciding in 2008 to change its guideline measurement and move from shorter-term testing to longer-term tests.
Radon is typically tested using small plastic discs somewhat resembling hockey pucks, which are placed in a home’s basement and left for a minimum of 91 days.
Warkentin said the free tests are no longer available in Brandon because the project is over, but that they can be purchased for approximately $60 from several retailers. The price of some tests includes the cost of shipping and analyzing the test while others require the user to pay extra.
According to her, the cost of installing radon mitigation is approximately $3,000, although Take Action on Radon operates a yearly draw where someone who has installed mitigation receives $1,000.
A typical mitigation device involves a pipe that goes under a home’s foundation connected to a fan that sucks the gas up the pipe and out a vent installed into the side or top of a home. Warkentin said the gas dissipates quickly, but she wouldn’t recommend breathing the air directly out of the pipe.
Luckily for the owners of newer homes, the Manitoba Building Code has required that homes be built with a short radon stub pipe in their basements, which basically serves as the bottom of a mitigation device should one need to be installed. That can help those homeowners save a bit on the cost of installing one.
Lists of radon test providers can be found online at takeactiononradon.ca/test/radon-test-kits/ or tackleradon.ca.
Tackle Radon is a project where people in Saskatchewan and Manitoba can enter to win prizes when buying a test kit from Oct. 20 through Nov. 30. Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill is an ambassador for the program.
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