As part of the Risk portfolio’s proactive approach to maintaining a safe and healthy learning and working environment for our community, a long-term project to test radon levels in university-owned buildings has been initiated.

Radon is an odourless, colourless and radioactive gas that arises from soils all over the Canadian Prairies, and can accumulate to unsafe levels within indoor environments. Long-term exposure to radon is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer.

Phase 1 of the UCalgary Radon Monitoring Project is already underway and will include all student residence buildings, student family housing and childcare facilities. These spaces have been selected for the first phase of testing because they have either a very young population, a population that dwells on the premises or — in the case of student family housing — a combination of both. Subsequent phases will occur over the next few years to test additional university buildings.

Thanks to increased research, awareness and regulations concerning radon gas in Alberta, it will soon be a provincial licensing requirement for childcare facilities to test radon levels — Rae Ann Aldridge, associate vice-president of risk, says she’s pleased to see increasing awareness and regulations relating to radon. 

“We’ve learned a lot about radon gas in the last decade or so,” says Aldridge. “We’re better at measuring it and we’re better at mitigating it — now is the right time to embark on this project that will verify our community is exposed to as little radon as possible while they’re on campus.”

Support from the best

UCalgary is planning and executing Phase 1 of the project in collaboration with Radon West, an external consulting company that is Canadian certified in both the measurement and mitigation of radon.

Additionally, globally recognized radon gas researcher, Dr. Aaron Goodarzi, PhD, an assistant professor in the departments of Oncology and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, is offering his expertise to the project as a consultant. Goodarzi currently leads the Evict Radon campaign to test tens of thousands of Western Canadian homes for radon.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the resources, the enthusiasm and the mindfulness that the university has put to this project,” says Goodarzi, who is a member of the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute. “They have engaged experts who have knowledge that is important to the decision-making process in how we test and how we respond to test results.”

Monitoring, analysis and mitigation

Radon testing devices will be deployed throughout October 2018 and collected in January 2019. Results will be analyzed and made available to the community in the spring.

Health Canada recommends that residential radon gas levels between 200 and 600 Becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3) be mitigated within two years, while the World Health Organization proposes a reference level of  100 (Bq/m3) to minimize radon-related health hazards — UCalgary has committed to achieving radon levels less than 100 Bq/m3.

“The university is not defaulting to the maximum acceptable,” says Goodarzi. “We are conforming our approach to the guidance of the World Health Organization and Health Canada, which is to aim for radon levels that are as low as reasonably achievable — that is the best practice.”

If Phase 1 testing reveals a need for mitigation, it will be carried out as a separate project led by Facilities.

Mitigation methods can vary significantly depending on the room or building, but these methods are typically highly effective — even if some problem areas are detected, solutions are available.

Get more information

Find more information about the project here. For questions and comments about the University Radon Monitoring Project, email [email protected].

Radon testing must be conducted during the winter months, so now is the time to start measuring radon gas levels in your own home — visit Health Canada or the Evict Radon site to find out how.