July 9, 2009
For immediate release
Further Results from Radon Testing
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As part of the second phase, the Department of Health also retested 20 buildings that had originally exceeded the new national guideline during the first phase of the radon testing.
“The results of the PEI Radon survey help us gain a better sense of what radon levels are in public facilities across the province,” said Chief Health Officer, Dr. Heather Morrison. “Through this project, we have tested nearly 200 sites across the province and the results from both phases show relatively low radon levels for buildings here in Prince Edward Island compared with those found in many other regions of Canada.”
The first phase of the project was completed over the winter of 2007-2008 and 87 sites were tested at that time. The results of the first phase showed that just over eight percent of the samples exceeded the new Health Canada guideline level. Most of those samples were only slightly above the new level, and none of the samples exceeded the old guideline.
Upon retesting during the second phase, the results showed that only four of the 20 sites that had initially exceeded the guideline confirmed those readings. Remedial work will be undertaken to reduce the radon levels in these buildings. Health Canada guidelines recommend remediation within a two-year period. In phase two, only two samples of the total amount of new tests collected confirmed the presence of radon levels above the national guideline.
Health Canada lowered the guidelines for exposure to radon gas in 2007 from 800 bequerels(Bq)/cubic metre (m3) to 200 Bq/m3. The province-wide survey of public buildings was conducted to gather baseline data on radon concentrations in PEI which, until then, did not exist.
The highest indoor radon levels are commonly found during the winter months and therefore retesting of affected buildings took place over the winter months of 2009.
The Prince Edward Island Radon Project is part of a national radon strategy to track radon levels in public buildings. This provincial project is also a multi-department initiative on behalf of the Department of Health, Environment, Energy and Forestry, Education and Early Childhood Development, Social Services and Seniors, Workers Compensation Board, and Transportation and Public Works.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
What is radon?
Radon is a colourless, odourless, radioactive gas that occurs naturally in the environment from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rock.
Is radon dangerous?
When radon escapes from the ground into the outdoor air, it is diluted to low concentrations and is not a concern. However, radon that enters an enclosed space such as the basement of a building or a home can sometimes accumulate to high levels. Radon is only dangerous to one’s health as the result of long term exposure. Lifetime exposure to high levels of radon can result in lung cell damage, which increases the risk of developing lung cancer.
Why did the province test radon levels in Prince Edward Island?
In 2007, Health Canada announced that the national guideline level for the acceptable level of radon gas in indoor air has been reduced from 800 to 200 becquerels/cubic meter (Bq/m3).
Where did the province test radon levels?
In the first phase of the project, there were 87 sites chosen across the province, including schools, hospitals, manors, seniors housings units and other public buildings. All tests were conducted in the lowest occupied floor of each building, over a three month period, over the winter of 2007-08. A Provincial Radon Committee chose the sites in consultation with the School Boards, PEI Housing and other government officials. The age, design and location of each building were taken into consideration.
The second phase of the project included testing an additional 106 buildings and retesting 20 sites where radon levels exceeded the national guidelines during the first phase. The second phase was conducted over the winter of 2008-09.
What do the results tell us?
The PEI Radon Project was the first initiative to collect province-wide baseline data for radon levels. The results do not indicate that radon is a significant problem on PEI. In phase one, the results showed that only eight percent of the samples exceeded the new national guideline level and most of those samples were only slightly over the new guideline level. None of the samples exceeded the old guideline level. In the second phase, only two samples confirmed the presence of radon levels above the national guideline.
How does PEI's results compare to other provinces?
Radon concentrations differ greatly throughout Canada, but are usually higher in areas where there is a higher concentration of uranium in rock and soil. While there is little national data on radon levels, PEI’s results show relatively low radon levels compared with those found in many other regions of Canada.
What steps will be taken to remedy the identified areas?
A total of 12 rooms in four buildings of the original samples confirmed the presence of radon gas. The Health Canada Guidelines recommend remedial action be undertaken within two years for any buildings with readings over 200 Bq/m3. Therefore, remedial action will be completed in four buildings by March of 2010 to reduce radon levels.
During phase two, two schools were identified with radon levels exceeding the national guideline in one room of each of the two buildings. Neither room is used as a classroom. These rooms will be inspected for possible entry points for radon and re-tested again in 2009-10.
What else do we know about radon?
Radon is heavier than air and tends to accumulate in the lower areas of a building, such as a basement or crawl space. Also, radon levels are generally higher in these areas because they are nearest to the source and are usually poorly ventilated. Radon concentrations fluctuate seasonally, but are usually higher in winter than in summer, and are usually higher at night than during the day.
How can radon get into my home?
Radon is found in almost every home or building, but concentration levels will vary from one building to another, even if the buildings are similar and next door to each other. The air pressure inside the home is usually lower than in the soil surrounding the foundation. This difference in pressure draws air and other gases, including radon, from the soil into the home.
Radon can enter a building through cracks in concrete floors, joints between foundation walls and floors, floor drains, sump pits and other areas that may allow the gas to seep into the building. The only way to find out if radon is present in elevated levels is to perform a radon measurement test.
How can I test my home for radon?
There are radon detectors on the market that measure radon levels for short periods of time, and others that gather data over many months. Since the radon concentration varies over time, measurements gathered over a longer period of time are generally considered to give a more accurate sample. Radon testing should be performed by a qualified radon testing company. Local companies who may provide home radon testing can be found under "Air Quality Services" in the yellow pages. However, there is currently no national certification program for those involved in radon testing and remediation. Individuals should ask for references or a list of former clients before entering into a contract with an environmental consultant.
How can I reduce the amount of radon in my home?
If radon levels exceed the national guideline level (over 200 Bq/m3) the following steps can be taken to reduce radon to safer levels:
1. Increase the ventilation in the basement to allow an exchange of air.
2. Seal all cracks and openings in foundation walls and floors, and around pipes and drains.
3. Paint basement floors and foundation walls with two coats of paint and a sealant.
4. If the above measures fail to reduce the concentration of radon to the acceptable level, soil depressurization can also be used to lower radon levels in the home. For more information, go to http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/ and download Radon: A Guide For Canadian Homeowners.
Where can I find more information on radon?
For more information on radon visit www.healthcanada.gc.ca/radon.