Radon is a naturally occurring colourless, odourless and tasteless radioactive gas, formed when uranium in soil, rock and groundwater breaks down.
Radon enters buildings through cracks in the foundation, walls or floors and gaps around cables or pipes. When radon gets inside buildings, that's when it can become dangerous. Radon levels are often highest in basements or lower levels of buildings as they are closer to the source of radon.
Radon can sometimes accumulate to high levels, which, if exposed for a long time, can cause lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in Canada after tobacco smoking.
In B.C., the highest levels of radon concentrations are found in the interior and northern regions. In a previous survey of radon concentrations in homes conducted by Health Canada, homes within the VCH region had low concentrations. Slightly more homes in our coastal regions of VCH (North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Sea to Sky and Sunshine Coast) areas of VCH had concentrations above the Canadian guideline.
Since people spend as much as 75% of our time at home we encourage you to test your home for radon (testing should be done in the winter when windows are closed). A testing kit is easy to use and costs about $40. For home owners interested in testing their houses, kits are available from BC Lung Association on the Radon Aware website or call 1-800-665-LUNG (5864). Radon testing kits can be purchased at hardware stores.
If elevated radon levels are found, basic measures can be taken to address the problem, such as installing a venting system to direct the radon gas to the outdoors where the gas can be diluted to safe levels.
Ideally, radon levels should be as low as practical. The Canadian guideline for remedial action is 200Bq/m3. The World Health Organization recommends taking action if concentrations are above 100Bq/m3.
Health Canada recommends taking remedial action within two years if concentrations are between 200Bq/m3 and 600Bq/m3 and within one year if concentrations are above 600Bq/m3. If concentrations are between 100Bq/m3 and 200Bq/m3 remedial action can be taken within two years.
In winter 2017/18, VCH tested public schools on the North Shore, Sea to Sky, Sunshine Coast, Powell River and Central Coast for radon. This was undertaken to confirm that radon concentrations are low in schools and to encourage people to test levels in their own homes. The results are included in the report. The results have been shared with schools, which have shared the data with parents/guardians. Download the Radon Results Report.
Schools with radon concentrations at or above the guidelines are currently undergoing follow-up testing to determine if levels are elevated during the day when the building is occupied. If levels remain above guideline levels, basic measures can be taken to reduce the levels.
Coastal schools in the French School District did not participate in the testing. Since kids spend 15-20% of their time in school, the radon concentrations found are not high enough to warrant urgent action. It is safe for students and staff to continue to use the classrooms while further testing is conducted.
Schools in Richmond and Vancouver were not tested, since previous radon surveys have shown very low levels in these areas.
North Vancouver, West Vancouver and Central Coast – Charlene Wood – (604) 983-6797
Powell River and Sunshine Coast – Darren Molder – (604) 885-5164
Sea to Sky - Dan Glover – (604) 815-6846