Simon Fraser University’s Citizen Scientist project is providing free radon-testing kits to households in the Greater Vancouver area. These testing kits are capable of detecting radon, a harmful gas known to cause lung cancer in humans.

     Radon is an odorless and radioactive gas that is invisible to the naked eye — and like all radioactive elements, radon has a half-life. Radon gas decays and emits alpha particles, which is a form of radiation that can lead to adverse outcomes in the lungs.

     According to Dr. Anne-Marie Nicol, an associate professor in the faculty of health sciences, the alpha particles emitted by radon damage DNA in the human lungs when inhaled. “Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. In the USA, radon leads to more deaths than drunk driving every year,” said Nicol.

     Moreover, radon can enter buildings through cracks and openings in the floor and basement wells. “Where ventilation is poor or air changes are less frequent, radon levels can become elevated . . . and [this] can become dangerous,” explained Nicol.

     Since 2007, the Canadian federal government has urged Canadians to have their home tested for radon. However, according to Nicol, the reality is that many Canadians haven’t followed the federal government’s recommendation, which is very concerning.

     At the moment, the only accurate method to detect for the presence of radon in household settings is through radon-testing kits. In order to encourage the public to test their home for radon, Nicol has been distributing 200 free radon-testing kits to eligible homeowners, supported by SFU’s Community Engagement Fund. Once these testing kits are gone, there are a few other local vendors who sell these kits, including the BC Lung Association, said Nicol.

     Moreover, Nicol emphasized that these radon-testing kits are effective, non-toxic, user-friendly, and take approximately 91 days to complete. She also urges tenants to test for radon in their suite because rented suites located in the ground floors and basements of home tend to have the highest levels of radon.

     Currently, the Canadian government recommends that radon levels in household settings should not exceed 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m³), whereas the United States and World Health Organization’s recommended guidance levels are lower, at 150 Bq/m³ and 100 Bq/m³, respectively.

     In the event that a resident’s home is discovered to contain radon above the guideline level, they should contact a professional, said Nicol. “Decisions to remediate homes depend on what the rooms are used for. Basement rooms where people sleep or spend a lot of time are important places to fix.”

     Nicol also emphasized that residents living in North Vancouver, West Vancouver, as well as the Sea to Sky Corridor may have a higher probability of elevated levels of radon because of their geology. Radon is produced when uranium decays, so regions with higher levels of uranium also contain higher levels of radon.

     The Peak asked Nicol to share the reason why she is providing these radon-testing kits to the community and she said that in the interior region of Canada, there are regulations that require new homes to have a radon removal system partially built into a new home. However, in the Lower Mainland there is currently no regulation that requires that.

     “This study is trying to characterize the levels [of radon] in this region so we can better protect people [moving into] new homes . . . People who participate [in this study] are really helping us learn more about our region, and making local housing safer to everyone who lives in these house from then on,” she concluded.