Is the soil under your house killing you?

About ten years ago, my friend Kris was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was a shock, for sure, especially since she didn’t smoke. Turns out her lung cancer was caused by exposure to a gas called Radon. Radon is a radioactive gas found naturally in the environment. It is produced by the decay of uranium found in soil, rock or water. Radon is invisible, odourless and tasteless and emits ionizing radiation. As a gas, radon can move freely through the soil enabling it to escape to the atmosphere or seep into buildings. When radon escapes from the bedrock into the outdoor air, it is diluted to such low concentrations that it poses a negligible threat to health. However, if a building is built over bedrock or soil that contains uranium, radon gas can be released into the building through cracks in foundation walls and floors, or gaps around pipes and cables. Coincidentally, November is the anniversary of her death and also Radon Action Month across Canada.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in Canada. Exposure is estimated to be the cause of 16% of lung cancers. Radon decays quickly, giving off tiny radioactive particles. When inhaled, these particles can damage the cells that line the lung. Long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer.radon-house-eng

If you live in a building with high radon levels or if you spend a lot of time in one, you are at higher risk for lung cancer. In 2007 the acceptable level of radon was reduced 75% from 800 units of becquerels per cubic metre to 200 Bq/m3. If you smoke and you live in a home with a high levels of radon, you are at an even higher risk for lung cancer.

When radon is confined to enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces, it can accumulate to high levels. Radon levels are generally highest in basements and crawl spaces because these areas are nearest to the source and are usually poorly ventilated.

Radon test kits may be purchased over the phone, on the internet, or from home improvement retailers. Test kits include instructions on how to set up the test and to send it back to a lab for analysis once the testing period is over. When purchasing a radon test kit ($25-$75), be sure that it is a long-term test kit (one that measures radon levels in your home for at least 3 months over winter months). It is also important to find out if the purchase price includes shipping and laboratory analysis fees.

For more information http:// or Health Canada’s Radiation Protection Bureau at radon@hc-sc-.gc.caa or 613.946.6384.

Photo credit: Health Canada.

Do you think Radon inspection should be mandatory when buying a property?
Email me your thoughts at

– Chip Barkel, MCNE, SRES, Toronto Real Estate. Extraordinary Service. Top Results.