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Radon affects YOUR health










Radon & Smoking

Protect Your Health.
Kick The Habit.
Test Your Home.

A high percentage of New Brunswick homes which participated in a two-year Health Canada study were found to have high levels of radon. The Cross-Canada Survey of Radon Concentrations in Homes – Final Report found that 6.9% of Canadian homes on average but 20% of homes in New Brunswick have high levels of radon.

What is radon gas?

Radon is a radioactive gas produced naturally by the decay of uranium in the ground. It exists all over the world, although the amount of uranium and level of radon gas vary significantly, even from one house to the next. Radon is invisible, you can’t see it, smell or taste it and it can get into your home undetected.

The current Canadian Guideline for radon is 200 becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3). Becquerels per cubic meter is the unit of measurement for radon, the higher the number the greater the risk. Protecting your family’s health from the risk of radon exposure starts with learning more.

The only known risk from long-term exposure to radon is the development of lung cancer. Radon exposure is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. The level of risk depends on the concentration of radon as well as the number of years of exposure. It is estimated that 10% of all lung cancer-related deaths in New Brunswick are linked to radon exposure.

Smoking

Smoking has negative effects on nearly every organ in the body. If you are a smoker, there are things you can do to protect you and your family’s health:

  • Continue to try to stop smoking
  • Only smoke outside of your home
  • Utilize resources available to support you to quit smoking (see below)
  • Have your home tested for radon
  • Lower radon levels if the test shows that they are high (above 200 Bq/m3)

 

The chemicals in tobacco smoke can cause a number of negative health effects:

  • Lung cancer
  • Heart Attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Emphysema
  • Cancer of the mouth, throat, and voice
  • Cancer of the kidney and urinary bladder
  • Premature death

 

You don’t have to do it alone; here are some resources to help you quit smoking:

  • Call your provincial Smokers’ Helpline. It’s confidential, bilingual, and toll-free:
    • New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island: 1-877-513-5333
    • Newfoundland & Labrador: 1-800-363-5864
  • Smokers’ Helpline website for NB, NS, & PEI: www.smokershelpline.ca/
  • Smokers’ Helpline website for Newfoundland & Labrador: http://www.smokershelp.net/
  • Lung Association quit smoking resources

Read some stories about how other people, just like you, quit smoking.


The health risk from radon exposure and smoking

Smoking and radon exposure significantly increases the risk of lung cancer (including those being exposed to second-hand smoke). The effect is more than the two risks added together.

Text Box: As a smoker, your risk of developing lung cancer is   1 in 10.     If you add long term exposure to radon, your risk increases to 1 in 3.    For example:

  • If you have never smoked but are exposed to a high level of radon your lifetime lung cancer risk is 1 in 20.
  • As a smoker only, it is estimated that your risk of developing lung cancer is 1 in 10.
  • If you are a smoker and are also exposed to high levels of radon, your risk of developing lung cancer becomes 1 in 3.

60% of radon related lung cancer deaths occur among smokers, and 30% occur among former smokers.

Smokers are not the only ones at risk; approximately 10% of all radon-related lung cancer deaths occur among non-smokers.

Top five reasons for quitting smoking and reducing radon levels:

  • Reduce your risk of developing lung cancer and other tobacco-related diseases
  • Take control of your health and the environment
  • Protect your family’s health
  • Save money and live longer
  • Be a positive role model in your family and community

 

Radon in your home?

A recent study has shown that over 1 in 5 New Brunswick households have radon levels above the Canadian guideline- one of the highest in Canada. Radon is found in nearly all homes in Canada, new or old. The question is: how much is in your home? The gas can enter the home wherever it has contact with the ground. Radon tends to accumulate in the lower levels of the home, like the basement for example, where it can reach high concentrations.

The gas can seep into the house in a variety of places:

  • Foundation wall cracks;
  • Between floor tiles;
  • Packed earth floors;
  • Construction seams;
  • Gaps around pipes and support posts;
  • Crawl spaces, drains and sump holes.

 

The only way to know if you have a radon problem in your home is to measure its concentration with a simple test.

 

Protect your health and your family’s, measure the radon level in your home and quit smoking


Text Box: Radon test kit  Source: Accustar Labs  Measure radon level
The only way to know the level in your home is to measure it using a radon detector. There are a number of measuring devices and services available. Testing is safe, simple and relatively inexpensive. Some radon detectors allow you to measure radon concentrations over short periods (days) while others do so over several months.

Health Canada recommends measuring radon in your home for at least three months, ideally in the fall and winter timeframe. Radon levels can vary significantly over time and, therefore, a long-term test is more accurate.

If the radon test results are above the Canadian Guideline of 200 becquerels per cubic meter (200Bq/m3), steps to reduce the level of radon in your home should be taken. The higher the level, the sooner corrective measures should be taken. Remember that you should not rely on your neighbors’ test result as results can vary significantly from one home to the next.

Test kits can usually be found at hardware stores. The New Brunswick Lung Association is also offering long-term radon test kits at a price of $35(lab testing included) while quantities last.

 

Quit smoking
Remember that the Smokers’ Helpline and the Lung Association are available to help you quit smoking.

Did you know that your body will begin to heal itself within 24 hours of quitting?

  • 20 minutes after quitting, your blood pressure drops to your pre-cigarette level.
  • 8 hours after quitting, the carbon monoxide in your blood drops to normal and the oxygen level in your blood increases to normal.
  • 24 hours after quitting, you lower your chances of having a heart attack.
  • 48 hours after quitting, your sense of smell and taste improve and begin to return to normal.
  • 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting, your circulation improves and your lungs work better.
  • 9 months after quitting, you experience less coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue and shortness of breath.
  • 1 year after quitting, your risk of heart disease is about half of what it would have been if you had continued to smoke.
  • 5 years after quitting, your risk of stroke is greatly reduced. Within 5 to 15 years after quitting, it becomes about the same as a non-smoker's risk.
  • 10 years after quitting, your risk of dying from lung cancer is about half of what it would have been if you had continued to smoke. Your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney and pancreas also decreases.
  • 15 years after quitting, your risk of heart disease is the same as a person who never smoked.

 

What can you do to reduce radon levels in your home?

There are many ways to reduce the radon level in your home and, in most cases, these measures are simple and relatively inexpensive. For example:

  • Seal all cracks and holes in the foundation walls and floors, and gaps around pipes and drains;
  • Increase the mechanical ventilation, via an air exchanger or heat recovery ventilator (HRV), to allow an exchange of air;
  • Renovate existing basement floors, particularly earth floors;
  • Install a sub-slab depressurization system that will suck out and exhaust the radon outside – this is typically done by a contractor.

 

The effectiveness of these methods will depend on the level of radon in the home and characteristics of the home. As each house is unique, a qualified or certified contractor can assess your home and recommend one or several mitigation techniques.

The work should be done by an experienced contractor who has received proper training from a certified organization. Expect the work to cost anywhere from $500 to $3,000.

 

For new homes

When a new home is being built, it is not possible to predict the levels of radon it will contain. It is therefore simpler and less expensive to adopt preventive measures during construction than to take steps later on.

In December the 2010 National Building Code revisions were released and included in them were new codes to protect against radon entry.  These new codes apply to all new homes built in Canada, make sure that you builder is implementing them. The codes include:

      • A permeable layer (e.g., aggregate) under the slab
      • A vapour/air barrier between the permeable layer and slab
      • A sealed slab
      • A capped vent stub through the slab - a rough-in of a radon sub-slab depressurization system

For more details on these codes you can visit the web at:

http://www.nationalcodes.ca/eng/public_review/2009_2/subject_nbc05_radon.shtml

 

Corrective and preventive measures are featured in the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s brochure “Radon – A Guide for Canadian Homeowners”.

Additional resources for radon measurement and mitigation are:

Guide for Radon Measurements in Residential Dwellings (Health Canada)
Government of Canada Radon Guideline (Health Canada)
Radon information from the New Brunswick Department of Health

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Where can I find radon test kits?
A: There are two options for testing a house for radon: one is to purchase a do-it-yourself radon test kit and the other is to hire a radon measurement professional. If you choose to perform the test yourself radon detectors can be purchased over the phone, from the internet or from some home improvement retailers.. Health Canada encourages the use of long-term radon test kits. Long-term radon detectors commonly used are alpha track detectors and electret ion chambers.
The New Brunswick Lung Association is also selling long-term radon test kits for $35 (lab testing included).

 

Q: What areas in New Brunswick are known to have the highest levels of radon?

A: Currently, there is no “radon map” to show what areas in the province have the highest levels of radon. However, a recent study has shown that over 1 in 5 New Brunswick households have levels above Health Canada’s guideline- one of the highest in Canada.

Radon levels vary dramatically. No variable (location, age, or structure of your home) is enough to indicate how much radon is in your home. A brand new home, in an area that supposedly has low levels of radon, can still have dangerously high levels of the gas inside the home. The only way to know is to do a simple test.

 

Q: My radon test results came back and they are above Health Canada’s guideline of 200 Bq/m3. Now what?

A: First, don’t panic. You have the highest risk of developing lung cancer when you are exposed to high levels of radon for a long period of time – years or decades.

Next, consult the Canadian Mortgage & Homeowner’s Corporation’s booklet “Radon: a guide for Canadian homeowners”. Inside, you will find information about simple methods to reduce radon levels in your home. There is also information about dealing with contractors.

If you would like to do more extensive work to lower radon levels, look at the list on this webpage called “Companies that perform radon-related services”. Note these companies have self-identified themselves as being capable to deal with radon in some capacity. We do not endorse any of these companies.

If there isn’t a company listed in your area, call a reputable contractor. Ask friends and neighbours for recommendations.

 

Q: How does radon gas cause lung cancer?

A: Radon decays quickly, giving off tiny radioactive particles. When inhaled, these radioactive particles can damage the cells that line the lung. Long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer.

 

Q: Why is it hard to quit smoking?

A: As you know, cigarettes contain the addictive drug called nicotine. Nicotine affects your brain and body in different ways. It can:

  • Rev you up. Like coffee, it’s a stimulant that makes you feel more alert.
  • Make you feel calmer and more focused.
  • Make you feel happier. It can act as an anti-depressant. Doctors have discovered that some smokers are depressed, and smoking is their way of taking a drug for their depression.
  • Get you addicted. It doesn’t take long for your body and brain to get addicted to nicotine.
  • Make you feel sick and uncomfortable when you haven’t had it for a while.

Once you’re addicted, having nicotine in your body feels “normal”, and going without nicotine feels bad. If you don’t get your nicotine fix, you start feeling withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms don’t last forever. There are ways to cope with withdrawal symptoms. Or you can talk to your doctor about quit smoking medications.
Another reason why you may find it difficult is because smoking was a part of your routine. The solution is to build new routines. For example, if you went for a smoke to take a break from work or the kids, trying going for a walk, taking a warm bath, or put on some music and “zone out” for 5 minutes.

Kelsi Gow, mother of 2 and smoker for 13 years, found that she always drank Coca Cola when she smoked. Instead, she now drinks coffee or tea. When she’s really stressed out, she uses scotch mints as a replacement for her cigarette.

Read some stories about how other people, just like you, quit smoking.

The Smokers’ Helpline is always available to help you quit smoking. It’s confidential, bilingual, and toll-free:

New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island:1-877-513-5333

Newfoundland & Labrador: 1-800-363-5864

Or visit the Smokers’ Helpline website for NB, NS, and PEI: http://www.smokershelpline.ca/.

Smokers’ Helpline website for Newfoundland & Labrador: http://www.smokershelp.net/

Production of this content has been made possible through a financial contribution from Health Canada.

The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Health Canada