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Radiated Homes a Hazard

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A report from the radiation protection branch of the BC Ministry of Health reveals that radon, which is a known human lung carcinogen, exists at significant levels in many homes and schools in the interior of the province

A report from the radiation protection branch of the BC Ministry of Health reveals that radon, which is a known human lung carcinogen, exists at significant levels in many homes and schools in the interior of the province.

Radon is a naturally occurring odourless, tasteless and colourless radioactive gas, derived from decaying uranium.

"While two thirds of BC's population lives in low radon areas (the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island), the interior of the province presents quite a different picture," says the report from the Ministry of Health.

Homes and especially schools in areas like the Okanagan, Prince George and the West Kootenays were tested. The report found that these areas and others within the Interior were radon-prone and needed monitoring. Schools are of particular interest because they contain large numbers of young people at risk from exposure. Alpha radiation monitoring and safety ventilation mediation procedures have been underway for some years in the schools.

The Canadian safe level is extremely high at 20 picocuries per litre (pCi/L), says David Morley from the radiation protection branch in BC.

"Canada's levels are one of the highest in the world with more countries at five to 10 picocuries," he says. The US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) safe level is estimated at under four picocuries per litre. Morley says that the Canadian government does not consider radon to be a problem as radon gas has "no proven effect one way or the other."

However, studies from the University of Iowa College of Public Health have shown that long-term exposure to radon in the home is associated with lung cancer. The EPA estimates that between 7,000 to 30,000 lung cancer deaths are caused by radon each year. These figures make indoor radon the second leading cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking in the United States.

Radon gas from decaying uranium flows from soil into the outdoor air. It also flows into the air of buildings from the movement of gases in the soil under homes. The problem of high concentrations of radon indoors occurs when the gas is unable to disperse. The main causes include old leaking oil or gas pipelines and flaring, increased solar radiation disturbance, near-surface mineral extraction, elevation as well as nuclear plant radiation drift from the United States. Radon attaches itself to dust particles which are easily inhaled into lungs and can adhere to the lining of the lungs. Alpha radiations can disrupt the DNA of these lung cells. This DNA damage has the potential to be one step in a chain of events that can lead to cancer.

It's possible to test your own home for levels of radon. Low cost, do-it-yourself kits such as charcoal canisters, alpha tracks and electretion chambers are commonly used for short-term testing and are available at hardware stores. You can lower radon to safer levels in your home by sealing cracks in the floor and walls. Major changes are not necessary. By simply using pipes and fans, radon gas can be removed from the foundations of buildings before it gets inside.

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