Your life savings are vanishing, your job is in jeopardy, and the repo man has already visited some of your friends and relatives. Now here’s the really bad news: your beloved home—the one you’re desperately trying to save from foreclosure—may actually be killing you (and not because of the mortgage payments).
The culprit? Radon: a tasteless, odourless, invisible gas that lurks in cellars and crawl spaces and is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, next to smoking. Every year, up to 2,000 Canadians die a premature death because their homes—unbeknownst to them —are loaded with tiny radioactive particles.
This nasty little gas is hardly new (scientists have been studying its fatal side-effects for more than a century), but the federal government is suddenly anxious to find out which neighbourhoods are most at risk. Over the next two years, Health Canada plans to spend almost $1 million testing 18,000 randomly chosen homes, with the end result being an online “radon potential map” that pinpoints possible danger zones. “Radon is the largest source of radiation exposure for most Canadians,” says Jack Cornett, a ministry spokesman. “But we are concerned that there is a real lack of awareness about it.”
Here’s what Health Canada wants you to know: first, don’t panic. Radon is a naturally occurring gas released by uranium decay in the soil, and the experts believe that only 2.5 per cent of all homes contain “unsafe” levels (more than 200 becquerels per cubic metre). Second, if you’re still nervous, conduct your own test. Do-it-yourself radon kits cost as little as $50 at the local hardware store. Third, seal all the cracks in your basement floor. Radon loves to seep through those crevices.
Oh, and don’t smoke cigarettes. Apparently that causes lung cancer, too.