Healthy Living in the North

Radon: What you need to know

Family in house.

Knowing the radon levels within your home allows you, as a homeowner, to make informed decisions about how to best protect your family.

November is Radon Awareness Month in Canada and it’s a great time to test your home for radon gas.

Did you know that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and kills approximately 2,000 people in Canada each year? This was news to me, which is why I wanted to connect with Environmental Health Officer Shane Wadden to learn more.

Here’s what Shane told me:

What is radon?

Radon is a radioactive gas. It has no smell, no colour, and no odour. It is naturally occurring in many northern soils and can build up in your home. The only way to know if a home has high indoor radon levels is to test.

What are the health effects of radon?

Exposure to radon increases your chance of getting lung cancer:

  • Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking.
  • Radon is the primary cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.
  • Radon causes approximately 10% of all lung cancers worldwide.
  • Radon kills approximately 2,000 people in Canada each year.
Radon test kit

The only way to know for sure whether your home is high in radon is to test. Long-term radon test kits can be purchased from Northern Health Public Health Protection offices.

How do I test my home?

The only way to know for sure whether your home is high in radon is to test. Health Canada recommends that homes be tested for a minimum of three months (preferably 12 months), ideally between October and April. The detectors should be set up in the lowest lived-in level of your home where you spend at least 4 hours of your time each day. Testing is easy and relatively inexpensive. Long-term radon test kits can be purchased for $25 at one of nine local Public Health Protection offices.

When should I take action?

Radon is measured in bequerels per meter cubed (Bq/m³). This measurement is used to determine the concentration of radon in the surrounding air. The current Canadian Guideline for Radon is 200 Bq/m³. Health Canada recommends that that you take steps to reduce (mitigate) radon levels in your home if you detect radon concentrations greater than 200 Bq/m³. The higher the radon concentration, the sooner the remedial measures should be conducted.

Reducing the amount of radon in your home is easy. Radon levels in most homes can be reduced by more than 80% for about the same cost as other common home repairs such as replacing the furnace or air conditioner. Techniques to lower radon levels are effective and can save lives.

This fall, take a few minutes of your time to test your home to ensure that you and your family are safe. Knowing the levels within your home allows you, as a homeowner, to make informed decisions about how to best protect your family.

Where can I find more information?

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)


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

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.)