Why is radon gas harmful?
Radon is radioactive and unstable. In a very short period of time it decays and emits alpha particle radiation, which severely damages our DNA in such a way that is almost impossible for our bodies to repair without introducing genetic errors (mutations). These errors trigger a worsening cycle of DNA mutation that drives cancer formation. Hence, radon is listed as a category 1 carcinogen (cancer causing agent), meaning that it is absolutely known to cause cancer in humans. As radon is inhaled into our lungs, it primarily triggers the formation of lung cancer – the number one cause of cancer death in Canada – even in folks who have never smoked. Younger people, especially children, are the most at risk from the DNA damage caused by radon exposure. The risk of cancer goes up with greater radon levels, and prolonged exposure over a life.
How is radon gas measured?
Radiation from radon is measured in a unit called the Becquerel (Bq) that represents one alpha particle being emitted per second. When measuring radon, the Bq is monitored per cubic meter of the air in your home (Bq/m3). A 16% increase in your relative risk of lung cancer is measurable per 100 Bq/m3 of chronic radon inhalation. In Canada, 200 Bq/m3 is considered maximum allowable by Health Canada, with advice being to strive for as low as reasonably achievable. We have observed some homes in Western Canada with radon as high as 10,000 Bq/m3, which is the equivalent of 60,000 dental x-ray equivalents of radiation each year according to the International Commission on Radiological Protection.