“The bogeyman exists and is lurking in your home. Radon is stealing the breath of your children and pets.”
Those are the words of Chilliwack’s Jill Hall, who is on a mission to raise awareness about a deadly radioactive gas, and she has found an important ally in the City of Chilliwack. The City is holding an information session Nov. 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre. Registered participants will be able to pick up a radon test at the session or visit Chilliwack city hall between Nov. 23 and 25.
“The City of Chilliwack is presently providing radon (testing) pucks on their website,” Hall said. “They have become strong advocates of radon awareness.”
Radon is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas that forms naturally from the breakdown of rocks and soil. It is a leading cause of lung cancer and according to Hall, studies are ongoing for links to leukemia, etc.
Hall said the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has been educating local physicians on the rise in lung cancer in our area due to radon exposure. Smokers are at particularly high risk, and Hall said animals can suffer as well.
“A resident in Sardis had both her dogs die from lung cancer,” she noted. “Lung cancer in dogs is not typical as they don’t live long enough to acquire this horrific disease.”
In early 2021, Jill’s brother Tony Gore tested his Webster Landing-area home for radon and was shocked by the results. In his five-year-old daughter’s second-floor bedroom, levels were seven-to-10 times higher than the World Health Organization (WHO) safe level of 100 becquerels per cubic metre (bq/m3).
That was a lights-on moment for Jill and Tony.
They tested six of their personal Chilliwack homes soon after and five came back with significantly high levels of radon.
Gore Brothers has since tested 60-plus homes in Chilliwack and the Fraser Valley Regional District and found alarmingly high radon levels, sometimes 1,000 bq/m3. High radon levels were found in homes ranging in age from 60 years old to brand new.
“Radon can even be present in well water,” Hall noted.
Radon takes the path of least resistance to escape the ground. It tends to settle in basements but moves easily with air/heat throughout the house. Newer houses are sealed up tight with high efficiency furnaces which can draw radon out of the ground and disperse it through the house.
Gore Brothers Homes, co-owned by Tony along with siblings Mark and Lee, has started testing all of their rentals in Canada, and all of their new builds will have mitigation systems.
Radon mitigation is already in Abbotsford and Hope’s building code, but not yet in Chilliwack’s. Hall said the provincial government is taking a step in the wrong direction with its BC Energy Step Code. In a push for net-zero carbon emissions, the code is decreasing air exchange in newly constructed homes to once per hour.
“This will be the next government driven public health disaster,” Hall said. “This is a worldwide issue especially in light of our drive for energy efficient air tight homes.”
Most existing homes can have mitigation systems installed, as Tony did with his. Hall described the process as “easy and reasonable.”
“The fear and lack of knowledge that radon can be easily mitigated is the biggest hurdle to the blind-eye syndrome,” she said.
The info session on Nov. 22 will include presentations by Noah Quastel from BC Lung and Anne-Marie Nichol from Simon Fraser University. Andrea Schinkel from the Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists will be in attendance to answer questions.
The City of Chilliwack is taking part in the Radon Test Kit Challenge this fall. Take Action on Radon, funded by the federal government, is supplying 100 free kits, and the B.C. Lung Foundation is providing 100 more. With the City of Chilliwack also supplying 100 free test kits, there are 300 available to local residents.