Indoor Radon Study in Prince George & Area
In 2014 the BC Lung Association (BCLA) and Fraser Basin Council (FBC) worked with community partners in Prince George to carry out Canada’s largest ever community-wide indoor radon testing study and a supporting public awareness campaign. The study has helped paint a better picture of the radon gas risks in the region, and yielded data relevant to BC health policies and BC building construction standards.
Radon is an odourless, colourless radioactive gas that is a known carcinogen. It is released into the air through a breakdown of uranium in rocks and soil, and can enter homes through foundation cracks and other openings. Exposure to indoor radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in Canada after smoking and is linked to 16% of lung cancer deaths in this country. People can protect their families by testing for radon in their homes and, if needed, taking steps to reduce radon levels.
The Indoor Radon Study in Prince George
The BCLA and FBC began a radon study in January-February 2014 by distributing 2,000 home test kits to interested residents in Prince George and the surrounding area. After a three-month testing period, 71.5% of participating households returned the test kits for analysis. Of the homes tested, 29% were found to have levels of indoor radon exceeding Health Canada’s guideline (200 Bq/m3). When radon levels exceed the guideline, mitigation to reduce radon is recommended, typically through a modification to the home’s ventilation system. Homeowners can take comfort in knowing that homes with high radon levels can be fixed and that the cost is typically similar to other minor home repairs.
For details of the study outcomes, see Prince George: Community-Wide Radon Testing Results.
Aboriginal Housing of Prince George: Case Study
The Indoor Radon Study offered important opportunities for collaboration. The BCLA, FBC and the Aboriginal Housing Society of Prince George (AHSPG) worked together to test 136 housing units for radon gas. Of the units tested, 36 (26%) exceeded Health Canada’s guideline for radon.
The good news is that the AHSPG then worked to mitigate radon in all 36 units and had a 100% success rate in lowering radon to levels well below the Health Canada guideline. The AHSPG is a champion in providing safe, healthy and affordable housing for aboriginal people, and the radon mitigation project aligned closely with its mission.
For details, see A Model for Radon Testing and Mitigation in Affordable Housing.
Assessing Radon Prevention Measures in New Homes
The Indoor Radon Study in Prince George also focused on assessing radon gas levels in new home construction and evaluating different approaches to radon reduction.
FBC staff worked with local home builders from January to June, 2014 to raise awareness of radon gas and to test for radon in new homes constructed under the 2012 BC Building Code. FBC and BCLA retained Certified Radon Mitigation Providers to evaluate three variants of radon reduction in a total of 16 test homes.
At the time, a roughed in, capped pipe for a subfloor depressurization system was required by the BC Building Code; such an installation was intended to allow for easier installation of a full vent pipe should it be needed, but it did not permit soil gases to leave the building. Passive radon reduction systems (which have a radon pipe installed to vent radon gas from the soil through the building to the outdoors) consistently reduced radon levels; however, in 5 of the 16 test homes, the indoor radon levels remained close to or above the Health Canada recommended level. The best protection was found in the active radon reduction systems, which use a fan to improve radon venting.
In late 2014, the Province of British Columbia instituted new radon mitigation measures in the BC Building Code. The most significant change to the Code is the requirement for a full radon vent pipe to be attached to the rough-in and exhausted to the outdoors. The Code does not require the addition of a fan; however, a homeowner can add a fan to provide further protection when needed. It remains a good practice for all homeowners in areas with high levels of indoor radon to test their homes – and stay safe.
Learn more in the report: Future Proofing: Protecting Consumers from Radon in New Homes.
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Next Steps to Consider
To find out more about radon gas and to order a test kit online, visit www.radonaware.ca.
Radon Aware offers helpful videos, maps, studies and other resources for BC homeowners, building professionals, policymakers and researchers.
Test kits are available regionally through Northern Health Public Health Protection Offices.