Radon: The silent killer lurking in your basement

If you can’t see, taste, or smell it, how do you know it’s there?

By Ashley Aalto, Staff Writer


When moving into a first house or apartment, students will find themselves bombarded with warnings about the dangers of living alone and tips to keep themselves safe. People are told what to do in case of a fire, where the fuse box is located and how to use it, and what to do in case a carbon monoxide alarm goes off. Through the crash course of dangers in the household, few are told about the threat of high radon levels, but it is important to know about this hazardous gas.

Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally when there is a breakdown of uranium in the soil. It does not have a colour, taste, or smell, which can make it hard to detect. Radon can enter your house, and once inside, the toxic gas collects and reaches levels that can be extremely dangerous to the human body.

But how dangerous is radon exactly? Radon accounts for 16% of lung cancer diagnoses. Non-smokers exposed to the gas have a 1 in 20 chance of being diagnosed with lung cancer, but smokers have a much higher chance, at 1 in 10.

According to ecosuperior.org, high radon levels can be quite common in Thunder Bay houses. The top three city sectors with high levels of radon in the house were the McIntyre ward with 43% of the houses tested having high levels of radon, the Neebing ward with 30%, and the Red River ward with 15%.

Radon and its potential effects are very important for students to be aware of as many students live in basement apartments. Radon affects houses that have a basement, crawl space, or any part of the building that is underground. It enters the house by seeping through pipes and cracks in the foundation, and accumulates mainly in lower parts of the house.

As said previously, radon has no colour, smell, or taste. So how do you detect radon? There are radon detection kits that you can buy for a reasonable price and set up yourself. According to the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, this small device is placed in the lowest part of your house that is occupied for four or more hours a day. It is then left in said area for three months, sealed, and sent to a lab for testing. If the results come back positive for high radon levels, it is advised to take action within two years.

Taking action doesn’t mean selling your house or totally blocking off your basement, so don’t panic. The first step is to contact a professional to come and assess the situation. Most of the time, the soil around your house will be actively depressurized. You can also take preventative measures such as installing a sealed sump pit cover, sealing cracks in the house’s foundation, and having a natural ventilation system.

With that in mind, if you live in a house with a basement or crawl space, you may want to consider picking up a radon testing kit. You can get your testing kit at Eco Superior for $35 and in a few short months, you can find out if this silent killer is lurking in your basement.

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