• Radon in the Apartment Home

    Posted on December 18, 2017 by in Health, MARK'S REMARKS

    Exposure to radon, a naturally occurring, invisible, odorless radioactive gas is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers,and a significant contributor to lung cancer in smokers.

    Recently we received an email from the Canadian Cancer Society which read (in part):

    “Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to reducing your risk of cancer. This winter, we want to challenge you to empower yourself, your family and your community by participating in a research study on radon gas levels in your home.

    “Did you know that exposure to radon, a naturally occurring, invisible, odorless radioactive gas is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, and a significant contributor to lung cancer in smokers?

    “As our homes become more energy-efficient, they are also becoming better traps for the accumulation of radon gas. Today, 1 in 8 Alberta homes has a radon level above Health Canada’s recommended threshold. Fortunately, it is relatively easy and affordable to fix the problem if your home radon level is high. The first step is to test (see last paragraph, below)”.

    After a discussion with my wife, we concluded that this was of minimal concern to us; however, I decided to find out more and wrote to the study organisers:

    “I live on the 10th floor of a multi-storey condominium building with 2 underground garages between the buildings. Is my apartment or are my condominium buildings a suspect for radon exposure?”

    The (abbreviated) reply I received surprised me:

    “Hi Mark! So, yes. Literally any building whose foundation directly contacts soil is potentially at risk. We have many participants in our study who live in condo and apartment buildings. As, typically in this part of the world, our buildings are heated by forced air ventilation, that can mean radon entering into a property through the lower levels can be spread quickly through a multistory dwelling. At the same time, we should also point out that upper floor apartments are statistically less likely to have very high radon. However, the only way to ever really be sure is to do a test.

    “We hope to see you amongst our many Citizen Scientists! All the best,
    “Team Evict Radon”

    I decided to add more information for Team Evict Radon (TER) to consider since we didn’t meet the conditions described in their reply:

    “Thanks ‘TER’ for that quick reply.

    “I should expand on the nature of our garages … they are ventilated to exhaust vehicle exhaust fumes and Carbon Monoxide, and fitted with extractor fans as well as forced air intake ventilation fans. The car-entry doors are not well sealed and remain open about 30 seconds whenever a car enters or leaves. There are double fire-rated person-doors to the residential buildings so the garages are almost ‘sealed’ from the rest of the buildings. The residential buildings are pressurised by Make-Up-Air units on the roof so that there is positive pressure in the hallways which leaks out of the apartments through (1979 vintage, leaky) windows and the bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans on the roof which run continuously.

    “If you think there is still merit in conducting tests, I would be willing to do so and could probably persuade a resident on the main floor to also conduct a test.”

    TER replied:

    “We are going to let one of the C-NRPP certified radon testing and mitigators (that our study has contracted to distribute tests) to chime in here, as they can speak to the specifics of the building type you describe”.

    Colin Dumais further replied:

    “Hi Mark:

    “Yes, that type of building would be expected to be fairly low for all of the reasons you mentioned.  

    “There was one example we heard about in the states where a whole building was low except for the penthouse because the elevator shaft brought the radon right to the top!

    “Also, old buildings often have cinder block walls and sometimes the hollow cores allow radon to be sucked up from the ground via the ceiling space which is often used as a return air plenum.  Typically only a portion of the air is fresh makeup air and the rest is recirculated so it’s possible to have high radon in the entire building or in an isolated portion.  It all depends on the ventilation rate and the pressure imbalance between the building and the ground.  

    “You’re probably low but it’s only $60 to know for sure”.

    The $60 he refers to is the cost of a simple screening test, (see last paragraph, below):

    “… the only way to ever really be sure is to do a test”. (emphasis added – AMH)

    “If interested in testing, please visit Evict Radon where you can join our study by ordering your test (after our short home metric survey). Your radon test, which requires no electricity and is smaller than a hockey puck, will be posted within about a week of signing up. Placing it is straightforward, and instructions come with each kit. Please just email us if, at the time, you have any questions whatsoever.

    “The information we collect through this study will help make a radon-induced cancer free future possible for Canada. Kits may be obtained for $60 (done at cost, simply cost of the device itself, postage to you, pre-paid shipping to the central N America testing lab, and their fee). You will get your reading directly, and we the researchers will receive it associated with your post code. We will never identify your home in any way publically. In terms of a subsidy, it is important to know that, at no cost to participants, we conduct literally hundreds of gold-standard controls to ensure everyone is receiving as accurate a reading as possible. Thus, by radon testing with cancer researchers, participants are receiving the best possible radon test achievable”.

    Our condominium corporation board and management have been concerned about radon and were wondering how to proceed. This research has pointed the way for our corporation to act responsibly on behalf of the owners and occupants.

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