Radon action guide for municipalities: Duties, policies, bylaws and incentives

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Government operations and social housing

Governments have broad duties to ensure spaces they control are safe. When acting as employers they are bound by “general duty clauses” that require attention to hazards.Reference 1 They are also open to compensation claims if workers contract lung cancer from radon.Reference 2

Many municipalities control social housing: as landlords they have a duty to address radon to ensure the spaces they rent are in good repair.Reference 3 Social housing providers may be open to litigation under occupiers’ liability law if their spaces lead tenants to develop lung cancer. Addressing radon in social housing is an ethical and socially responsible action for municipalities to take.

In some cases, municipalities may also control schools, daycares, and other facilities for which radon action is also important.

A government could choose to test and mitigate its existing buildings and improve standards in new buildings as a way of acting ethically, or to help support local environmental industries. Testing of government buildings and social housing demonstrates leadership by example.

Outreach, testing and government operations summarizes:

An important principle in government testing and mitigation is to use certified radon professionals. Health Canada recognizes professionals certified under the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program (C-NRPP). In the absence of clear rules from the provinces on who should perform radon services, local governments should consider setting policies limiting any contracts for radon work to C-NRPP certified professionals. This not only ensures high standards but helps build an important industry.

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Building codes

New construction is an excellent place to implement radon provisions. Building Codes are often updated, and this is an area where health and safety standards are widely accepted. Targeting new construction is particularly cost-effective. There are radon provisions in the (model) National Building Code (with the radon provisions last updated in 2010), and many provinces have incorporated some radon provisions in their Code.

The National Radon Program continues to work with Codes Canada and the National Research Council to encourage improvements in the radon provisions in the National Building Code. As well, some municipalities may be in a position to add radon provisions to building codes.

Whether a municipality can impose stricter building code requirements depends on the provincial and municipal law system. Where possible, municipalities should consider requiring full radon reduction systems in new homes and low-rise residential buildings. The most recent statement on best practices is now the Canadian General Standard Board’s 2019 “Radon control options for new construction in low-rise residential buildings.”

Building code, bylaws and provisions describes varying standards for radon in new construction across Canada and best practices.


In some provinces, municipalities have some control over whether radon provisions apply in their area. For instance, the Ontario Building Code has a section on “Soil Gas Control” which imposes requirements “where methane or radon gases are known to be a problem.”Reference 4 As a result, a number of municipalities and local health units have completed community testing to determine if radon is a problem and if so, they are then enforcing the radon building code provisions.

Beyond enforcing or improving building codes, there is scope for municipalities to communicate and conduct education about radon with builders and homeowners as part of the permitting and enforcement processes. Some cities, such as the Ontario municipalities of Guelph and Kingston, now deny occupancy permits to new construction that does not meet the Code requirements on radon.

In provinces with uniform Building Codes, local governments can also consider negotiating voluntary compliance with builders as a way of reaching higher standards, such as full passive sub-slab depressurization systems rather than “rough-in stubs.” This would be especially appropriate in areas where elevated radon is known to be prevalent.

Generally, requirements for uniformity concerning Building Codes attach to mandatory requirements and “enactments” in bylaws. There is thus still the option of tying compliance to other benefits a city might provide. For instance, a municipality might be able to use density bonus bylaws or land covenants to impose higher standards, or offer subsidies and incentives.

Building Code enforcement is a key focus of municipal governments. Most provinces now have some form of radon protection in place for new construction but rely on municipalities for enforcement. This is an important role, and municipalities need to ensure inspectors understand radon and radon mitigation systems. 

Ensuring building inspectors receive training on radon, including C-NRPP mitigation credentials, can be a good way to ensure radon is not overlooked. This can ensure inspectors meet the required standard of care, and can help protect municipalities from the risk of liability.Reference 5

Building codes, bylaws and provisions provides more detail on steps municipalities can take to enforce radon provisions, such as:

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Housing and maintenance standards

Many Canadian municipalities have standards of maintenance bylaws that cover the conditions of property. In practice, these often focus on “community standards” that aim to create calm, ordered, and quiet outdoor environments through attention to issues such as graffiti, garbage, or noise.Reference 6

However, some municipalities include details on indoor environments in these bylaws, and so supplement provincial residential tenancies protections.Reference 7 In some cases, such as British Columbia, the provincial government provides explicit guidance to municipalities that include indoor conditions, such as having plumbing in good working order. Municipalities should consider updating these standards to explicitly require radon testing and mitigation to ensure Canadian Radon Guidelines are met.

Municipalities can also take steps to ensure enforcement of maintenance standards. In Waterloo, Ontario, the city uses the business license process to enforce standards of maintenance, denying permits to landlords who do not maintain rental properties in good condition, and allowing enforcement by:

Municipalities can add protection from high radon to such bylaws, creating a powerful tool for protecting renters.

Building codes, bylaws and provisions provides examples of model language to help draft such bylaws and ensure their enforcement.

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Radon requirements in public spaces

Through the 1990s and 2000s many municipalities and other local governments in Canada came to adopt bylaws prohibiting smoking in public spaces such as:

In some cases, these were described as “Clean Air Bylaws”.Reference 9 In other cases they were part of a more omnibus “Health Bylaw” that covered areas such as bans on:

“Clean Air” or “Health” bylaws could be expanded to include rules requiring testing and necessary mitigation of radon in public indoor spaces. Cities generally can also use business permitting powers to enforce health bylaws.

Typically, anti-smoking bylaws drew on explicit wording in provincial legislation allowing municipalities to pass smoking regulations. However, municipalities could expand clean air/health bylaws or create new radon bylaws on the basis of the very general powers to pass health-related regulations (or, in some cases, general environmental powers).

Municipalities generally cannot prohibit normal business activity or trade, or, in most provinces (outside of Quebec, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island) impose more stringent building codes. It is important to emphasize that requirements to ensure low radon levels will not be unduly costly and so will not severely impact businesses. As well, regulating the health impacts of air can be differentiated from imposing structural requirements.

While Building Codes can provide detailed prescriptions for how buildings should be built, which can have the result of lowering radon levels or making it easier to do so, this is different from a requirement concerning the quality of indoor air. There will not be conflict between complying with a low radon requirement and complying with the Building Code (indeed, they will likely work together).

Building codes, bylaws and provisions suggests content for radon bylaws for public spaces.

Subsidies and incentives for testing and mitigation

Subsidies and incentives are an important component of radon action. Many people do not know about radon and need forms of encouragement. Poorer households might need financial help, and so subsidies represent a way of ensuring equity of access. Landlords may only be responsive to fiscal incentives. Local governments may pursue subsidies and incentives as a way to achieve broader goals of reducing elevated radon in their towns and cities.

Earlier in this guide we mentioned municipalities could sell or offer price subsidies on test kits as a way of spreading awareness and developing databases and maps. However, it is also important that mitigation costs not become a barrier, and disincentivize people from even taking steps to test.

There are many ways in which subsidies can be offered. Municipalities can include a subsidy system for radon in their municipal budgets and adjust tax rates accordingly. Subsidies can take the form of:

We suggest you only make subsidies for mitigation available where C-NRPP certified radon professionals carry it out.

Subsidies, incentives and energy efficiency covers examples of broader sustainable building programs pioneered by municipalities.

Energy efficiency retrofits

Green building programs are a core part of urban sustainability initiatives. It is common for municipalities to have green building programs covering city-owned property, or to have policies that catalyze low or zero emissions in new developments. As well, many municipalities own electricity and other utilities, which commonly include efficiency programs. Many building codes across Canada will over time adopt stricter energy efficiency standards. Attention to radon and other indoor air quality concerns should be an important part of energy efficiency programs. Section 8 of the Appendix provides examples of energy efficiency guides and programs that include recommendations for radon.

Energy efficiency often relies on controlling indoor air flow, but since the 1980s building scientists have been aware that “tight” buildings can prevent radon from escaping into the outdoors. There is evidence that in some cases increasing airtightness can elevate mean radon concentrations by over 50%.Reference 11 In newer homes there may be applicable radon standards in Building Codes, but in retrofits the Code may not be engaged. The result can be that radon issues are ignored and made worse.Reference 12 Alternatively, some energy efficiency initiatives, including third-party certification standards, do include radon mitigation.

Energy efficiency programs should be coupled with attention to ventilation rates as well as testing and mitigating for radon.Reference 13 At minimum, home occupants should be advised to test for radon after any energy retrofits. Radon policy should include measures to engage with energy retrofits as a way to reduce lung cancer rates and save lives and to eliminate unnecessary conflicts between reducing carbon emissions and human well-being.

Municipalities can ensure that where they promote energy efficiency, they also draw attention to radon and other indoor air quality issues, explaining the possibility of unwanted effects of a tight home. Incentive and financing programs for efficiency and other green building improvements should include covering the costs of radon testing and mitigation. There are possibilities to help link energy retrofit and radon mitigation financing—for instance, with low-interest loans which are paid back on monthly utility bills (sometimes called ”on-bill financing”).

Subsidies, incentives and energy efficiency covers:

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New development areas

Local governments might consider radon in soil when siting, zoning, and permitting new housing. Municipal legislation generally does allow for specific site planning, and specific restrictions due to hazards or health and safety concerns.Reference 14 This enables the council of the municipality to ensure the quality of site planning and architectural integration. In some cases, such as in British Columbia’s Local Government Act, municipalities are given powers to impose:

Municipalities may have information indicating particularly high radon in some areas, and as a result give special attention to any new developments. Radon mitigation using sub-slab depressurization is almost always sufficient to ensure indoor radon levels are below the Government of Canada Guideline, even where radon levels are very high pre-mitigation.

It is thus unlikely that municipalities would need to prohibit housing due to high background radon levels. However, new developments in locations known to have a high prevalence of elevated radon in buildings could be subject to specific standards or negotiated agreements, such as for radon testing prior to occupancy.

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Municipal governments have many reasons to take action on radon, stemming from concern with health and safety. Municipalities have broad powers to act in municipal law and can take a leadership role acting in concert with, or ahead of, provinces. Municipalities have the power to take concrete steps that will not only help prevent lung cancer and save lives but help get the ball rolling on broader provincial and territorial action.

Municipalities can:

Radon action fits into broader municipal planning and is a natural addendum to sustainability plans and healthy community strategies. Addressing radon is also a way to manage legal risks that municipalities may face when inspecting new construction, or as landlords, employers, owners and managers of buildings.

Municipalities can take radon action and reduce the incidence of radon induced lung cancer by collaborating with:


Reference 1

British Columbia, Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, BC Reg 296/97, Part 4 - General Conditions - 296/97 at s. 4.1; Alberta, Occupational Health and Safety Act, RSA 2000, c O-2 at s. 2(1); The Saskatchewan Employment Act, SS 2013, c S-15.1, at s. 3-8; Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, 1996 O-1.1. at section 12; Manitoba, Workplace Health and Safety Act, s. 4(1) C.S.M. c. W210; Ontario, Occupational Health and Safety Act, RSO 1990, c O.1 s. 25(2)(h); Quebec, Act respecting the occupational health and safety, CQLR c S-2.1 at s. 51 Nova Scotia, Occupational Health and Safety Act, SNS 1996, c 7 at s. 13 (1); New Brunswick, Occupational Health and Safety Act, SNB 1983, c O-0.2 at s.9; Prince Edward Island, Occupational Health and Safety Act, RSPEI 1988, c O-1.01 s. 12; Newfoundland, Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, 2012 under the Occupational Health and Safety Act(O.C. 2012- 005) at s. 42, Yukon, Occupational Health and Safety Act, RSY 2002, c 159 at s. 3(1); Northwest Territories, Safety Act, RSNWT 1988, c S-1 at s. 4. (1); Nunavut, Safety Act, RSNWT (Nu) 1988, c S-1 at s. 4(1).

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Reference 2

All provinces and territories have workers compensation legislation with broad provisions for injury on the job. Many specifically list ionizing radiation or radon leading to lung cancer as an occupational disease, see Nova Scotia, The Workers' Compensation Act, SNS 1994-95, c 10 s. 15(1); Quebec, The Workers' Compensation Act, CQLR c A-3, s. 111(8) and Schedule D (8); Alberta, Workers' Compensation Act, RSA 2000, c W-15 s. 24(6); Workers' Compensation Regulation, Alta Reg 325/2002 s. 20(1), Schedule B; British Columbia, The Workers Compensation Act RSBC 1996, c 492 s. 5 (1), s. 6(11), Schedule B.

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Reference 3

All provinces and territories have landlord-tenant law that includes broad language about fitness of habitation or good state of repair. On how this applies to radon see Ontario, CET-67599-17 (Re) 2017 CanLII 60362 (ON LTB) Quebec-- Vanderwerf v. Dolan, 2019 QCRDL 37417.

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Reference 4

Ontario Building Code Section and Supplementary Standard SB-9.

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Reference 5

Rothfield v. Manolakos [1989] 2 S.C.R. 1259; Just v. British Columbia, 1989 CanLII 16 (SCC), [1989] 2 SCR 1228; Ingles v. Tutkaluk Construction Ltd., 2000 SCC 12 (CanLII), [2000] 1 S.C.R. 298

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Reference 6

f. Regina Community Standards Bylaw No: 2016-2.

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Reference 7

f. Winnipeg Neighbourhood Liveability By-law 1/2008, at Part 2; Montreal By-law concerning the sanitation, maintenance and safety of dwelling units (03-096).

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Reference 8

City of Waterloo Rental Licensing Bylaw 2011-047.

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Reference 9

Capital Regional District, Bylaw No. 3962, Capital Regional District Clean Air Bylaw No 1, 2014; Kelowna Bylaw #: 5980-86; Clean Indoor Air and Smoking Regulation Bylaw; City of Revelstoke Clean Air Bylaw NO. 2186; Brantford Smoking-Clean Air Bylaw, Chapter 570.

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Reference 10

City of Vancouver, Health By-Law No. 9535; Leduc Bylaw No. 581-2004, Health Bylaw.

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Reference 11

Stanley, F.K., Zarezadeh, S., Dumais, C.D., Dumais, K., MacQueen, R., Clement, F. and Goodarzi, A.A., 2017. “Comprehensive survey of household radon gas levels and risk factors in southern Alberta,” CMAJ Open, 5(1), E255-E264.

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Reference 12

Collignan, B., Le Ponner, E. and Mandin, C., 2016. “Relationships between indoor radon concentrations, thermal retrofit and dwelling characteristics,” Journal of Environmental Radioactivity 165, pp. 124-130.

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Reference 13

Arvela, H., Holmgren, O., Reisbacka, H. and Vinha, J., 2013. “Review of low-energy construction, air tightness, ventilation strategies and indoor radon: results from Finnish houses and apartments,” Radiation Protection Dosimetry 162(3), pp. 351-363.

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Reference 14

British Columbia, Local Government Act 488 to 491; Alberta, Municipal Government Act, RSA 2000, c M-26, s. 640 (2)(c)(iv), s. 641; Saskatchewan, Municipal Government Act, RSA 2000, c M-26 s. 32(2)(d); Manitoba, Provincial Planning Regulation, Man Reg 81/2011. S, 2, Part 3, 1.1.1, Part 4; Ontario Planning Act, RSO 1990, c P.13, 34(1)(3 and 3.1; Quebec Act respecting land use planning and development, CQLR c A-19.1 s, 145.15 to 145.20).

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