Radon in Homes, Schools, and Workplaces: CELA Finds Legal Protections Lacking

Joint release from CELA, CAREX Canada, and CARST

Nov 25 2014

Toronto – In a report released today and in time for Radon Action Month, the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) concludes that Canadians need better legal protection from radon gas, a known carcinogen.

“We analyzed policy and law across Canada and found a patchwork of unenforceable guidance and inconsistent rules to confront this public health risk,” stated Kathleen Cooper, Senior Researcher with CELA and a report co-author.

Radon is an odourless, colourless gas. Arising from the natural breakdown of uranium in the ground, it is an indoor pollutant. Like all radiation sources, radon can cause cancer. It can enter our homes, schools, and workplaces, where we generally spend over 80% of our time.

“After smoking, indoor radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer. We have identified it as a top priority for action in our research into carcinogens,” stated Dr. Anne-Marie Nicol, Principal Investigator with CAREX Canada, an organization of experts creating an evidence-based carcinogen surveillance program for Canada.

An estimated seven percent of homes in Canada likely have unsafe radon levels as shown by Health Canada’s Cross-Canada Radon Survey. While some areas of Canada are known to have high radon levels, Health Canada’s survey evidence confirms that all homes need to be tested.

“CELA’s report helps us better understand the legal framework in Canada, and how it can be improved so that we can make our homes, schools, and workplaces healthier, including for radon mitigators, and so we can ultimately eliminate radon-induced lung cancers,” stated Bob Wood, President of the Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists.

Among the report findings:

  • Under the National Radon Program, the federal government has provided some important leadership including setting a “reference level” for indoor radon at 200 Bequerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3), conducting cross-Canada radon testing, updating the guidance provided to provinces and territories in the National Building Code, establishing a Canadian certification program for radon mitigation professionals, and extensive public outreach encouraging testing for radon in all homes across Canada.
  • However, we recommend that the Radon Guideline’s reference level be lowered to 100 Bq/m3 (as recommended by the World Health Organization). The federal government should also provide a radon mitigation tax credit; a logical next step after several years of urging that all homes be tested.
  • Although Canada’s provinces and territories are modernizing radon provisions in their building codes to reduce radon risks in new construction and major renovations, existing homes are not protected in law. Greater public awareness is needed so homeowners test for radon and remediate if necessary.
  • We found confusion and uncertainty about radon rules for workplaces creating potential health risks for all workers. Some provincial/territorial compliance offices apply the Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) Guidelines to workplaces for ‘incidentally exposed workers’, while others denied that radon is an occupational health and safety issue. Such variability in enforcement means inconsistent worker protection. It is also conceivable that some workers could be over-exposed to radon in both the workplace and their homes if high radon levels existed in both of these indoor spaces.
  • We found a lack of clarity among provincial and territorial public health officials on their inspection powers including when they should inspect for radon and whether any limits to their powers would arise concerning the need for a minimum three-month test to be a reliable radon measure, with little to no guidance from the case law.
  • We found little to no recognition of radon risks in program delivery for home energy efficiency measures. Homes participating in these programs, or homeowners doing their own energy efficiency work, need to test for, and if necessary mitigate, elevated radon levels that are known to result from tightening the building envelope.

CELA’s report makes 14 recommendations for addressing radon risks, and filling gaps in research, policy and law. It is available on-line at www.cela.ca

Full Report (173 pages)
Executive Summary and Table of Contents (16 pages)

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For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Kathleen Cooper, Senior Researcher, CELA 705-341-2488 kcooper@cela.ca
Anne-Marie Nicol, Principal Investigator, CAREX Canada anicol@sfu.ca
Bob Wood, President, CARST 416-677-2366 b_wood@carst.ca +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

CELA is a non-profit, public interest organization and legal aid clinic established in 1970 to use existing laws to protect the environment and to advocate environmental law reforms. www.cela.ca

CAREX (CARcinogen EXposure) Canada is a multi-institution research project that combines academic expertise and government resources to generate an evidence-based carcinogen surveillance program for Canada. www.carexcanada.ca

CARST (Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists) has members across Canada involved in or supportive of the radon industry in Canada. CARST promotes public awareness about radon measurement and mitigation, provides a community for sharing information among radon professionals, and seeks to ensure the development and adoption of the highest quality standards for radon measurement, mitigation, and reduction. www.carst.ca