Healthy Living in the North

Clean Air Day 2014

clouds, sky, sunny day

Celebrate Clean Air All Year Long

This year, we celebrate Clean Air Day on Wednesday, June 4. Clean Air Day is a great opportunity to reflect on our individual, community and regional contributions to air quality, and to consider all that we can do to reduce our impact – individually and collectively. Despite the image of British Columbia as a vast, wild and natural place, we celebrate our clean air only one day a year.

Perhaps we take for granted that we can breathe easy, especially in the north with our wide open spaces and vast oxygen-producing forests. However, clean air is not something to take for granted. In fact, breathing is anything but easy for thousands of British Columbians. Poor air quality can worsen a pre-existing health issue such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, or a heart condition. This means that those who are already at-risk are those who will be most affected. Did you know that asthma is the cause of the highest number of emergency visits in children?

Each region has unique features that affect local air quality.  The impact is specifically dependent on local weather patterns, geography, and types of emissions. For example, a windier location will have fewer air quality issues than one that experiences less air movement. However, some types of pollution are harmful even at low levels (specifically one called “particulate matter 2.5”). This type of pollution comes from sources such as vehicle emissions, wood-burning appliances, and burning fossil fuels.

So many of our everyday activities contribute to this problem, but the good news is that everyone has a role to play in the solution – both as individuals and collectively. For example, if we use wood heat, burning only dry, seasoned firewood can dramatically reduce the pollution from our homes. We can also reduce vehicle emissions by walking, cycling or using public transit. Small changes can have a huge impact on our local air quality – especially at certain times of the year!

For more information, visit northernhealth.ca.

Kim Menounos

About Kim Menounos

Kim is a healthy community environments lead, in public health protection, responsible for education and awareness of radon gas. She joined Northern Health in January 2011, and still feels like a newbie! Kim is a slow, but enthusiastic trail runner, and happiest when outdoors with her boys (husband, children AND dog). (Kim no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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Radon: Move from risk to “right on!”

radon detector

Have you tested your home for radon yet?

I have always considered my home to be a pretty safe and healthy place for me and my family. I’m careful to use ‘green’ cleaners and detergents, we use the bathroom fan religiously after taking a shower, and we do our best to limit our exposure to chemicals in the things we eat and consume.  Until I started working for Northern Health, however, I had never really heard of a much bigger concern: radon gas.

Radon is an odourless, colourless gas that is a radioactive decay product of uranium in the soil. It can seep into your home through cracks and seams in the basement foundation, around window frames or through sumps in the floor. Because it’s heavier than air, it can build up high concentrations in your home, and here’s the kicker: it can cause lung cancer. In fact, it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.

Sixteen percent of lung cancer cases in Canada are attributable to radon gas – that’s over 3,000 people each year! The risk of developing lung cancer from long term exposure to radon gas is 5%, but if you’re a smoker, that risk increases to 1 in 3. Wow! I had no idea that I could be at risk of lung cancer if I didn’t even smoke! And my kids…!

Many of us now have entertainment systems or movie rooms in our basements, or perhaps a teenager that prefers the muffled, dark corners that the basement bedroom has to offer. I had a great plan: as soon as they were a little older, my kids and their toys and loud games would be relegated to the basement for play, and I could regain control of the living room (meaning, stop finding Lego in the couch!). I realized that I had better check it for radon if I wanted to make sure they continued to grow up healthy.

So, I bought a radon detector. It was so cheap ($30) and easy to set up and conduct the test, and I got my results straight from the laboratory. Health Canada recommends using a long-term detector which you set up for 3 to 12 months. The fall season is the perfect time to test, since we keep our doors and windows closed for the most part. The Canadian guideline is 200 Becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3), so anything above that is considered high, but above 600 Bq/m3 is considered really high, and you should fix it as soon as possible. And if you find a problem, there are options for fixing it.

Check your house for radon, and protect your family against lung cancer. Then you can say “Radon? Right On!”

Radon detectors are available at all Northern Health Public Health Protection offices, or at major hardware stores. Visit our website for more information.

Or contact us at radon@northernhealth.ca.

Kim Menounos

About Kim Menounos

Kim is a healthy community environments lead, in public health protection, responsible for education and awareness of radon gas. She joined Northern Health in January 2011, and still feels like a newbie! Kim is a slow, but enthusiastic trail runner, and happiest when outdoors with her boys (husband, children AND dog). (Kim no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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