Q: We are looking to purchase a home in an area that is known for elevated radon levels. What is Radon and should we be concerned?
A: Radon is a radioactive gas that is slowly released during the natural decay or breakdown of uranium in the earth and moves freely though any soil, rock or even water. Since it is the heaviest gas in nature, it can easily accumulate in high levels in basements or poorly ventilated areas of a building. As radon decays, it further breaks down to form radioactive elements that can be easily inhaled into the lungs, where they can damage the cells that line the lung causing lung cancer. Health Canada reports radon exposure is linked to 16% of lung cancer deaths and is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. In Nova Scotia, the Department of Nature Resources have developed an amazing radon risk map, where you can enter your physical address and it will show if you are in a low, medium or high risk area. Test results have shown that a minimum of 40% of buildings in high risk areas exceed the Health Canada guidelines, but even homes in low risk areas should still be tested as this is the only way to know how much radon is in your home. Radon is measured in Becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3) and the current Canadian guideline for radon action is 200 Bq/m3 and the higher the number the higher the risk. However, even the current action level of 200 Bq/m3 is equivalent to the radiation exposure from 30 medical chest x-rays per year (assuming radon exposure at home for 12 hours per day).
Radon levels can vary over time and especially from season to season, which is why Health Canada has recommended testing a home over a duration of 91 days or longer to determine their radon levels, in order to better understand if remedial action will be required. For the average homeowner, a simple do-it-yourself radon testing kit can be ordered on-line from the Lung Association of Nova Scotia. However, when it comes to real estate transactions a long term test would be considered unrealistic, so a short term test of at least 48 to 72 hour should be performed. However, it is strongly recommended that you only hire a C-NRPP Certified Radon Measurement Professional because they have been specifically trained to an industry recognized standard of practice and are held accountable for working to established radon testing guidelines. Canadian – National Radon Proficiency Program (C-NRPP) is a certification program designed to establish guidelines for training professionals in radon service, which can be found here.
Lawrence Englehart (Global Property Inspections) is a Registered Home Inspector and be reached at email@example.com or www.gpiweb.ca/englehart or www.facebook.com/GPI.HRM