A map from 2012 showing the areas of the province most at risk for high levels of radon. (Radon Environmental Management Corporation photo.)

Abbotsford partners with national health coalition for radon awareness campaign

Some homes suspected to have high concentrations of the deadly radioactive gas

There may be something lethal lurking in Abbotsford basements: an invisible killer of 3,000 Canadians every year – radon.

Radon is a radioactive, invisible, odourless and tasteless gas that’s created from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rock. Although it’s present to some degree in every home, the gas becomes dangerous when built up in enclosed spaces.

November is Radon Action Month and the City of Abbotsford has partnered with a coalition of national health organizations to spread awareness of the deadly gas.

“This is a cause for concern and everyone should test their houses,” said Belinda Moen, manager of building inspections for the city of Abbotsford.

Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in people who don’t smoke, and 16 per cent of lung cancer deaths are related to the gas, according to Health Canada.

The city and a national health coalition, Take Action on Radon, are hosting a Nov. 4 demonstration on how to install radon-reduction systems into a home. Government officials and representatives from local health and home builders’ organizations will attend the demo at a show home at 29559 Corvina Court at 9:30 a.m.

Certain areas around Abbotsford and Hope are considered to be in the high-risk zone for residential radon, says Jamie Reilly, acting director of corporate affairs for the Fraser Valley Regional District.

“Under the 2018 BC Building Code, all new buildings located at the high-risk zones (zone 1) are required to have a radon rough-in (vent pipe) for a subfloor depressurization system,” Reilly said.

A September 2018 update to Abbotsford’s municipal building code requires new construction projects to install these new radon-mitigation systems.

Buildings completed prior to the building code update could put the people inside them at risk of exposure.

“Our department can only effect change on new construction,” Moen said. “So we’re looking around to do a public awareness feature.”

Part of November’s Take Action on Radon public awareness campaign is a scientific survey called the 100 Radon Test Kit Challenge. One hundred radon test kits will be distributed on a first-come-first-serve basis at 7 p.m. on Nov. 20 at the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium.

Only eight per cent of homes in B.C. have been tested for radon and more than one million homes in Canada are estimated to have high concentrations of the gas, according to a recent study commissioned by Health Canada.

Take Action on Radon is attempting to expand the scope of radon data, detection and awareness through programs like the Test Kit Challenge, said Pam Warkentin, executive director of the Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists.

“People have done geological studies to say what’s in the soil and what the potential for radon is,” Warkentin said. “[But now,] we are putting maps together based on actual measurement data.”

Although radon was discovered in the 1950s, it wasn’t until 2004 and 2005 that research studies were released about dangerous levels in residential buildings, Warkentin said.

“Health Canada evaluated these studies in 2007 and realized that radon was a bigger issue than we previous thought for people in their homes.”

People who take part in the Test Kit Challenge will receive a radon level measurement for their home. Those individual numbers will be averaged for the creation of accurate radon maps and further scientific research.

“It really helps increase awareness. People can start to test for it and it helps us with gathering information, community by community,” Warkentin said.

People wanting to RSVP to the show-home demo or who are interested in receiving a free test kit should email: bmoen@abbotsford.ca.

RELATED: Fraser Valley winners on to national science fair

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