Radon gas is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and is responsible for approximately 16% of lung cancer deaths in Canada, which translates to more than 3,200 lung cancer deaths per year.1,2 As radon is colourless and odourless, testing is the only way to know if radon levels are elevated and remediation is required.
Many organizations are working to assess radon exposure in homes and raise awareness about the importance of home testing.
Radon is a radioactive gas that is produced naturally by the breakdown of uranium in the ground. Since radon can’t be seen, smelled, or tasted, it can get into your home undetected. In outdoor air, radon is diluted and therefore not a concern. But in confined spaces like your house, radon can build up to high levels and become a health risk.
How to test for radon
Radon testing can be done cheaply, or even for free (we got the simple test kit pictured above for free). The cost and reliability depends upon the type of test used — and, especially if you attempt do-it-yourself testing, how well the instructions for testing are followed. If your home has never been tested, a cheap test kit will tell you if you need to be concerned and save you the money on more reliable testing if the results come back low.
A passive radon test consists of an absorbent test medium that the user leaves in their home, usually for 48 to 72 hours for short term tests or several months for long term tests. Place the test medium in your home according to the instructions, typically in the lowest occupied level of the home, and leave it undisturbed for the duration of the test. Try to minimize the opening of doors and windows, or other unusual ventilation, in order to get a representative test. At the end of the test period, the test medium is sealed and sent in to a laboratory for analysis, usually at no extra cost once the test kit has been acquired.
If the test kit results are less than 2 pCi/L, you can stop worrying about radon. But if the level is over 2, it may be worth further study. If the level is over 4 pCi/L, you should definitely open your pocketbook for more testing to determine a course of action that may end in radon mitigation.
More reliable equipment will monitor the radon levels continuously, ideally checking also for temperature, pressure, and humidity which can indicate changes that might invalidate the test results. A certified tester must be employed to conduct a radon test with these relatively expensive monitors.