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[/ul]Ottawa to stiffen guideline on radon levels in homes
Globe and Mail Update
A Health Canada task force is working out plans to bring in new, tighter guidelines on radon levels in homes — a move critics say should have happened more than 20 years ago.
One of Canada’s top radiation experts says the department ignored a warning in the mid-1980s that the country needed a tougher guideline on radioactive radon seeping into homes, leading to thousands of needless premature deaths from lung cancer.
Fergal Nolan, president of the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada, said he asked Health Canada in 1986 to adopt the same strict standard on acceptable radon levels in homes as had been set that year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but the federal government took no action.
Instead, Health Canada set a guideline two years later that was more than four times as permissive as the U.S. level. The amount of radon considered acceptable for Canadians to be exposed to in their homes would cause damage equal to that of smoking about a pack of cigarettes a day.
Related to this article
In testing for radioactive radon in homes or offices, this device is left on an elevated surface for a week, then analyzed in a lab. Simon Hayter/The Globe and Mail
[li]The radon risk[/ul]**Latest Comments[/li]
[li]To RV H #7, it only costs about $50 to test a home and all of…[/li][li]Radon is naturally present in the ground around and under a house…[/li][li]Thanks to comment number 9 for an informative response on radon…[/li][li]12 reader comments | Join the conversation[/ul][/li]
“We said to them they should adopt the U.S. guideline, that the guideline they had in Canada was insufficient,” Mr. Nolan said in an interview.
“I don’t think the Health Canada group took seriously the risk to people’s lives; they didn’t take seriously other people’s assessments. I think they were too complacent about it.”
Earlier this year, Health Canada, with little fanfare, changed its view on the dangers of radon. It issued a report proposing the country set a far more rigorous regulatory level, nearly as low as the one in the United States and similar to one prevailing in much of Europe.
The report also estimated that about 10 per cent of lung-cancer deaths are from radon exposure in the home, making it the second leading cause of the deadly illness after smoking.
The radiation safety institute reviewed health statistics for lung cancer from 1986 onward, including a projection for fatalities this year. Using the Health Canada estimate, it concluded the country had 32,833 premature deaths from radon over the period. A significant portion of those deaths could have been avoided, as the department’s previous guideline is associated with an approximate doubling of lung-cancer risk, compared with the proposed stricter guideline.
“I think it’s unconscionable that this was neglected for so long,” Mr. Nolan said.
A federal-provincial working group is now planning the implementation of the new guideline.
Health Canada disputes Mr. Nolan’s statement that it failed, in the 1980s, to accurately assess the dangers posed by radon. In an e-mail, the department said its proposal to change the guideline was based on new research conducted in 2004 and 2005 that conclusively established the link between residential radon exposure and lung cancer.
When the existing guideline was adopted in 1988, “there was no direct evidence of lung cancer causation by exposure to radon at levels commonly found in homes. It was known only that exposures to radon levels above [the Canadian guideline] in uranium mines was a factor in lung cancer,” Health Canada said.
Mr. Nolan, however, contends the research in 2004 and 2005 was not new because it only pooled results from about 20 previous studies on radon to quantify residential hazards. “These were studies that really confirmed the prudential judgment taken in the early eighties by both European countries, Germany, Sweden, and others and by the U.S. [Environmental Protection Agency],” he said.
The institute, based in Toronto and Saskatoon, is a non-profit organization that promotes radiation safety and was established to help deal with the high incidence of lung cancer caused by radon in the uranium-mining industry in Ontario. It was established through joint funding from the federal and Ontario governments, and the mining industry.
Health Canada had a representative on the institute’s board in the 1980s, when Mr. Nolan said he asked the department’s radiation protection bureau to consider the U.S. standard for Canada. He said he got nowhere with Health Canada.
Mr. Nolan said the department’s attitude at the time was that it knew more about radon than U.S. officials.
He cited one of the institute’s newsletters from 1986, in which the head of Health Canada’s radiation protection bureau was quoted ridiculing U.S. moves against radon, dismissing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection as “not experts on radiation. I don’t think they have a sufficient understanding of what it’s all about.”
After being rebuffed, the institute began applying the more restrictive U.S. guideline in its radon testing program in Canada because it viewed Health Canada’s position as a health hazard.
The view that the department should have done more to protect Canadians from radon is shared by others.
Ontario’s representative on an intergovernmental committee that came up with the proposed radon standard, Arthur Scott, said he believes federal regulators failed to move aggressively against radon because they feared such an effort would divert money and attention from the link between smoking and lung cancer.
“There was some division of opinion in Health Canada on whether the standard was appropriate or not,” he said.
He said Health Canada’s limit was developed to show the level at which a home was so polluted by radon it “was dangerous” and required remedial action, while U.S. regulators were trying to set a level that signified a home was safe to live in.
[li]gerhard beck from Canada writes: It would have been nice to indicate the source of radon pollution in the average house so that Jow Blow can take precautions against it or at least find out whether or not his house is safe! [/li][ul]
[li]Posted 14/08/06 at 6:17 AM EDT | Link to Comment[/ul][/li][/ol]<LI class="comment " id=comment335208>http://images.theglobeandmail.com/v5/images/logo/insidereditionSub_175x10.gif
[li]Mark Allen from Ottawa, Canada writes: How does radon appear in homes? In building materials? [/li][li][ul][/li][li]Posted 14/08/06 at 7:47 AM EDT | Link to Comment[/ul][/li]<LI class="comment " id=comment335532>nathan weatherdon from Toronto, Canada writes: Too late for some, but better late than never. So does the onus fall on the home owner or the devleop to determine whether the site will be exposed to too much naturally occuring radon, and therefore require better ventilation… etc, to keep things safe. This is a good step, but will only become useful when accompanied by a practical plan to enourage steps for safety, as I’m sure they are well aware.
[li]Posted 14/08/06 at 11:46 AM EDT | Link to Comment[/ul][/li]<LI class="comment " id=comment335587>C Meyer from Lethbridge, Canada writes: It’s good to see some press for Radon awareness at the public level. I presented some research at the IEEE conference in 2003, here is a brief summary from ‘Data Acquisition Systems for Environmental Monitoring: A Population-Health Approach’. Population health analysts are in the process of designing new questions for surveys. Environmental radioactivity measurements and human surveillance are linked by health effects. Lung cancer from radon kills some 15,000 Americans each year. What does the general population know or care about this? What relevance do survey instruments and probes have in their lives? Population Health studies health outcomes, patterns of health determinants, and policies and interventions that link them. METHODOLOGY: talk and brainstorm The framework developed by World Health Organization to assess non-communicable diseases can be modified to suit environmental radioactivity surveillance. Novel approaches in developing the surveys should incorporate those professionals in the field using these tools as well as the population it intends to measure. A paucity of information was discovered in literature searches which helped to define this gap in methodology. Indeed a call for developing new linkages was sought in many disciplines years ago. Various international government or academic agencies that have a population health department tend not to link their information with environmental radioactivity monitoring departments. Why should I be concerned about this issue? For sustained and improved societies, the general population must be included in aspects of scientific work, at the very minimum in the fringes, to benefit the greater good. We must assess what people know and what they care about. Population health analysts have the means to ask many questions to many people, we monitor health needs and health services but we need to re-frame the questions we ask. I would encourage more cross-discipline work.
[li]Posted 14/08/06 at 12:14 PM EDT | Link to Comment[/ul][/li]<LI class="comment " id=comment335596>Pete Kauchak from Toronto, Canada writes: Yes please DO control radon in the peoples’ homes. I’m sick and tired of seeing glow in the dark children run by window at night. It keeps me from sleeping!
[li]Posted 14/08/06 at 12:18 PM EDT | Link to Comment[/ul][/li]<LI class="comment " id=comment335649>Beverley Leroux from Toronto, Canada writes: What is the source of radon in homes?
[li]Posted 14/08/06 at 12:42 PM EDT | Link to Comment[/ul][/li]<LI class="comment " id=comment335759>RV H from Ottawa, Canada writes: Ottawa can stiffen the guidelines on radon if they wish but what good will it do? If it is not measured then new guidelines are not going to help. I wonder if even one percent of the homes in Canada have ever had radon measurements taken. This is a naturally occuring contaminant that does not even register with most Canadians. And, do people really want to know the levels as it could devalue their property in a hurry? The link of smoking and lung cancer is well defined whereas this one most people (at least those that know about radon) are still looking at it as hearsay.
[li]Posted 14/08/06 at 1:39 PM EDT | Link to Comment[/ul][/li]<LI class="comment " id=comment335795>b g from Canada writes: 32,833 premature Canadian deaths from radon in the last 10 years. That’s greater than the death toll of 9-11 every single year for 10 years, and on a continuing basis. And yet, our politicians and our media relentlessly focus our fears on terrorism as the greater threat to us. While we run around like chickens without heads and mispend billions on terrorism, something that has killed an average of no more than say 5 Canadians a year during that time, we ignore a tangible and entirely solvable problem that has killed, and continues to kill, an estimated average of 3283 Canadians a year. It shows just how irrational we’ve become with this phobia, with about as much reason as panicked herd animals stampeding over a cliff.
[li]Posted 14/08/06 at 2:08 PM EDT | Link to Comment[/ul][/li]<LI class="comment " id=comment335820>James McGillawee from Oshawa, Canada writes: Some years ago the miners working the fluorospar deposit on St. Lawrence Island just South of Newfoundland were plagued with numerous cases of lung and throat cancers. The investigators found that there is a very high level of Radon gas eminating from deep in the earth into this mine. That facility has now been shut down for some years as it is too expensive to properly outfit miners with the necessary medical air breathing apparatus and still run a cost competitive mine. Flourospar (CalciumFloride) is the metallurgical flux used in steel making slags, etc., and a source of florides for other chemical reactions and products. While Radon is a member of the Noble Gas Elements (which do not form chemical compounds because they are inert), it is the radioactive disintigration daughter products of this atom that cause the biological damage. Radon gas is itself a disintigration daughter of the elements Uranium and Radium fissioning. Other sources of Radon gas concentrations eminating from the ground into water wells and basaement substructures occur in a wide arc swath from Quebec down through the USA and back up into Canada in the Western Alta/B.C. areas. More needs to be done to monitor and publicize the measurements and required remedial actions needed BEFORE not AFTER we have increasing incidences of lung and throat cancers in people who have never smoked or been exposed to carcinoginal industrial fumes. But that mandates technically competant politicans which is like dreaming in technicolor apparently. Passing Chemistry 101 should be a prerequiste for nomination for office!
[li]Posted 14/08/06 at 2:30 PM EDT | Link to Comment[/ul][/li]<LI class="comment " id=comment335854>Susan B. from Guelph, Ontario, Canada writes: Thanks to comment number 9 for an informative response on radon.
[li]Posted 14/08/06 at 2:58 PM EDT | Link to Comment[/ul][/li]<LI class="comment " id=comment335947>SW NB from East Coast, Canada writes: Radon is naturally present in the ground around and under a house and enters by the “stack effect” or negative pressure of the house especially in the winter. If a small fan were to always force air into the house there would be virtually no radon present but bit would, of course, increase your heating bills. Combustion heating allows more radon to enter a house than electric heat. The surest cure is to positively vent the house and use a heat exchanger.
[li]Posted 14/08/06 at 3:54 PM EDT | Link to Comment[/ul][/li][li]b g from Canada writes: To RV H #7, it only costs about $50 to test a home and all of about $1000 to fix the problem (through improved ventilation) so property devaluation is simply not a concern next to the risk of getting lung cancer. The Canadian government could completely fix the problem in the whole country for about a billion dollars and save 3283 Canadian lives this year and every year from now on. But instead they spend our billions on a foreign country on the other side of the world that has nothing to do with us. Unfortunately we’re presently stuck with a so-called leader that’s more concerned about ingratiating the Americans than about saving thousands of Canadian lives and hundreds of millions of Canadian healthcare dollars. [/li][ul]
[li]Posted 14/08/06 at 4:00 PM[/ul][/li] Roy Cooke[/ol]