Radon

Indoor Radon Characteristics in Canadian Arctic Regions

Health Canada investigates the potential health effects to the Canadian population from exposure to indoor radon gas. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas generated by the decay of uranium bearing minerals in rocks and soils. Exposure to indoor radon has been identified as the second leading cause of lung cancer after tobacco smoking. In an indoor environment, there are many factors affecting indoor radon concentrations. Those factors could be different in the Arctic regions than the rest of Canada. Based on the results from the 2011 Canadian residential radon survey, this Health Canada study assessed the indoor radon characteristics and associated radiation doses in the Canadian Arctic regions and compared them to the average radon characteristics in the rest of Canada. Within the Canadian Arctic regions the percentage of homes with indoor radon levels above 200 Bq/m3 varied from 0% in Nunavut to 20% in Yukon Territory. On average, the indoor radon characteristics within the Canadian Arctic regions were similar to the overall indoor radon characteristics in the rest of Canada. Although there were no significant differences in indoor radon exposure between people living in the Canadian Arctic and the rest of Canada, the average lung cancer incidence rate in the Canadian Arctic regions was significantly higher than the national average lung cancer rate. The higher lung cancer rate within the Canadian Arctic is likely due to the higher smoking rate in the northern communities. Health Canada’s radon program will continue working with tobacco control programs in order to effectively improve healthy living in the northern communities.  The results of this study are published in the journal Environment and Pollution, 2015, 1(4): 47-52.

Results of Simultaneous Radon and Thoron Measurements in 33 Metropolitan Areas of Canada

Health Canada investigates the potential health effects to the Canadian population from exposure to indoor thoron gas in addition to indoor radon gas. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas generated by the decay of uranium and thorium bearing minerals in rocks and soils. Radon has been identified as the second leading cause of lung cancer after tobacco smoking. Radon-222 (radon gas) and radon-220 (thoron gas) are the most common isotopes of radon. In 2012, a thoron survey was initiated in Canadian metropolitan areas in order to estimate the percentage of the radiation dose that thoron contributes from indoor radon and thoron exposure. The objective of this survey was to measure radon and thoron concentrations in a minimum of 4,000 homes across the 33 census metropolitan areas (CMAs) specified by Statistics Canada, which cover roughly 70% of the Canadian population. Approximately 122 participants were recruited from each CMA during the summer of 2012 with the testing to occur in the 2012-13 fall and winter season. Participants were recruited by telephone using random digit dialing by a contracted market research firm. Test kits were then mailed out in October 2012 to those who agreed to participate. A total of 4064 homes participated in this survey. The survey had a return rate of 79%. The results of the survey confirmed that indoor radon and thoron concentrations are not correlated and therefore thoron levels cannot be predicted from widely available radon information. The results showed that thoron contribution to the radiation dose varied geographically from 0.5% to 6.0%. The study indicated that, on average, thoron contributes about 3% of the radiation dose due to indoor radon and thoron exposure in Canada. Even though the estimated average thoron concentration in Canada is low, the estimated average radon concentration is more than double the worldwide average indoor radon concentration. It is clear that continued efforts are needed to further reduce the exposure to indoor radon and effectively reduce the number of radon induced lung cancers in Canada. Health Canada will use the results of this research to help inform future risk assessments on indoor air quality. The results of this research are published in the journal of Radiation Protection Dosimetry, 163(2): 210-216, 2015.

An Update on Thoron Exposure in Canada with Simultaneous 222Rn and 220Rn Measurements in Fredericton and Halifax

Health Canada is committed to the development and implementation of an effective radon program designed to reduce lung cancer incidence by increasing public awareness of risk, and promoting testing and action to reduce exposure. Naturally occurring radon gas in indoor air is recognized as the second leading cause of lung cancer after tobacco smoking. Radon-222 (radon gas) and radon-220 (thoron gas) are the most common isotopes of radon. While extensive radon surveys have been conducted, data on indoor thoron is very limited. In this study, Health Canada used RADUET type detectors to measure the levels of radon and thoron in the cities of Fredericton and Halifax. Detectors were deployed in 45 homes in Fredericton and 65 homes in Halifax for a period of 3 months. Analysis of the radon results showed an average of 138 Becquerel's/meter³ (Bq/m3) in Fredericton and 259 Bq/m3 in Halifax. Based these results, it was estimated that 18% of Fredericton homes and 32% of Halifax homes could have radon concentrations above the Canadian indoor radon guideline of 200 Bq/m3. Analysis of the thoron results showed an average thoron concentration of 203 Bq/m3 in Fredericton and 50 Bq/m3 in Halifax. Similar to previous thoron studies in Canada, no clear association between radon and thoron concentrations was observed.

The results of this study, combined with the data from limited thoron measurements previously completed by Health Canada, indicate that thoron contributes approximately 8% of the radiation dose due to indoor radon exposure in Canada. Health Canada recognizes that due to the limited sample size, this estimation is preliminary. To better assess thoron exposure in Canada and the risk it poses to the Canadian population, more extensive radon/thoron measurements will be required. Results of the research have been published in the Journal of Radiation Protection Dosimetry, 2011 Nov;147(4):541-7.

Assessment of Radon Equilibrium Factor from Distribution Parameters of Simultaneous Radon and Radon Progeny Measurements

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas generated by the decay of uranium-bearing minerals in rocks and soils. It is the most important contributor to human exposure from natural radioactive sources. As it decays, radon gas produces radioactive decay products (also referred to as radon progeny) that form solids which can be inhaled and lodge in lung tissue. These solids pose a potentially greater health risk than gas when they are airborne.  Health Canada has a mandate to promote and protect the health of Canadians by assessing and managing the risks posed by radiation exposure (including radon) in living, working and recreational environments. While a great deal of data is available on indoor radon gas concentrations, direct measurements of radon progeny concentrations are limited. Instead, concentrations are often estimated from direct measurements of radon gas using a mathematical formula that takes into account an estimate of the concentration of radon progeny that are airborne versus the amount that is trapped on surfaces, and thus harmless, represented by the equilibrium factor F. In this study, Health Canada revisited a radon and radon progeny survey carried out in the 1970s in 19 Canadian cities. The average F factor assessed from this survey in 12,576 houses is 0.54. The current assessment may indicate that the typical F value of 0.4, recommended by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation and the International Commission on Radiological Protection, could lead to a downward bias in the estimation of radon doses to the lung. Application of this information will be used to inform risk assessments on radon exposure measurements. The results of this research are published in Radiation Environmental Biophysics (2011 Nov), 50(4):597-601. Epub 2011 Jun 18.

Radon Exhalation from Building Materials for Decorative Use

Long-term exposure to elevated radon concentrations in indoor air can result in an increased risk of developing lung cancer. Although the radon gas in a home comes mainly from the soil and rocks under it, building materials can also give off or "exhale" radon. Health Canada undertook this study to obtain a better understanding of the nature and extent to which various building materials release radon, and the conditions under which such releases pose risks to human health. The exhalation rate of common building materials (porcelain, marble, ceramic, slate and granite) were measured and analyzed for potential health impacts. These impacts were based upon various factors including quantity of the product and existing environment/ventilation conditions. This information was used to calculate the radon concentrations in air for three different scenarios: a kitchen containing a granite countertop; a room with an entire floor covered in granite tiles; and a warehouse containing 300 slabs of granite with common ventilation. For the household use, granite with the highest radon exhalation rate observed in this study was used. Both of the household use scenarios produced radon concentrations levels well below the Canadian Radon Guideline of 200 becquerel per meter cubed (Bq/m³), with 3.6 Bq/m³ for the kitchen and 18 Bq/m³ for the tiled floor. The warehouse scenario was also below the Canadian Radon Guideline level; however, if radon exhalation rates are very high and the air exchange is low, workers could be subjected to significant occupational exposure from radon in the air. The results of this study showed that while slate and granite had higher average radon exhalation rates than the other decorative materials tested, building materials used in home decoration do not make a significant contribution to indoor radon levels provided there is adequate air exchange. Health Canada will use the results of this study to support further risk assessments and risk management issues related to radon. For more information on this study or on radon, in general, please contact: Radon@hc-sc.gc.ca. The results of this research are found in the Journal for Environmental Radioactivity, 101(4): 317-322.

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