Behind the Science: Radon risk and climate change: Healthy Canadians podcast episode 2 



Madeline Poplett: Welcome to Healthy Canadians: Behind the Science where we have a chance to get a little science specific about health topics that impact people in Canada. I'm your host, Madeline Poplett. Climate change is having profound impacts on so many aspects of life for people in Canada and around the world. We are making progress in lowering emissions and boosting our energy efficiency, but sometimes positive change can have unintended results.

On last week's episode of the Healthy Canadians podcast, we heard from Kelley Bush, Manager of Radon Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement with Health Canada. She told us about radon-associated health risks and what we can do to lower them. Today, Kelley is back to talk about some of those unintended implications when it comes to rate on risk and climate change. We'll dig into all of that in a moment, but first word from us.

Healthy Canadians is brought to you by Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. We aim to give you information and perspectives about the health topics that matter to all of us living in Canada. A heads up that what we discuss here won't always reflect the official positions or policies of the government of Canada. These are conversations, not news releases. Okay. Let's talk about radon and climate change.

Kelley, when it comes to radon, climate change and radon on that connection, it might not be intuitive. When you think about radon, climate change is not what comes to mind. Is climate change having a big impact on the world of radon risk and mitigation? Could you speak to that for us?

Kelley Bush: Great question. What people traditionally think about with regards to climate change and the impacts of storms and weather, et cetera, not so much necessarily but it's really the concept of adaptation, and what we're doing to try and reduce the impacts of climate change. In particular, it's thinking about our homes, and how we're building our homes and sealing them up a little bit more, and so that impacts the amount of radon, the accumulation of radon, and the level of radon in homes.

Madeline: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. There's obviously so much to consider owning a home in general, and climate change is top of mind for a lot of people in Canada, but then it seems intuitive for sealing up our homes more. It's going to have higher concentrations but on the other side of the coin, does that mean older homes are less at risk?

Kelley: Not necessarily, no. Climate change isn't changing the fact that radon is a risk in all homes because again, radon comes from the breakdown of uranium in the ground. It's going to get it into every building that's in contact with the ground, but with adaptation and the way that we're building homes now from a green or energy efficient perspective, what's happening is we're creating an environment where there's less error exchange, and so radon can accumulate to higher levels. You still need to test your home, even if it's 20, 30 years old. I hear people come up to me and say, "Oh, my house is so breezy. I don't have to worry about radon." That's maybe, but you don't know unless you test.

Madeline: It seems the emphasis should be on testing, of course, test, test, test. It's better safe than sorry, and awareness is a tool for you because if you're aware you can make actions accordingly. It does seem logical that if we're increasing efficiency, we'd increase concentrations. It's something that you just said. Has there been research studies to back this up? Is there something we can refer to for that?

Kelley: Great question. Yes, we recently did a study Health Canada where we looked in Halifax. Nova Scotia is one area with higher levels of radon, and we worked to have changes made to the building code back in 2010. Some changes related to radon that sealed a home up a little bit more and had a rough in for radon mitigation system, and so we wanted to do some research to determine did that help, did that reduce radon levels in homes?

In Halifax, we recruited participants with homes built 10 years prior. Did that building code change?

Madeline: Okay, that's 2010, so we're looking in the early 2000s.

Kelley: Yes. In the early 2000s, and then homes built 10 years after that building code, and measured the radon levels in both of those scenarios. What we found were radon levels were higher in homes built after the building code changes.

Madeline: Just a direct contribution then.

Kelley: Not only that, but the percentage of homes with really high levels of radon was significantly higher. We don't know if more research is required but certainly it's an indication that like over that period, if you think about from 2010 on, we were already starting to build homes with energy efficiency in mind. That's just one study that we've recently done, that you can find at There's the information on that study, but there's also some research out of the University of Calgary that had very similar findings that newer built homes are showing higher level.

Madeline: We're seeing consistency in the research?

Kelley: Yes. In Canada, and then internationally as well.

Madeline: Wow. Okay. It obviously shows that there's an emphasis that research is we have to have it be ongoing at this point.

Kelley: Yes, absolutely.

Madeline: Okay. I feel like listeners are going to really identify with that especially for that timeline that you just identified. I think that it's going to hit home for people in Canada. I know that we can infer a concern. It may be potentially a disincentive on one side for people in Canada to not prioritize efficiency in the same way if they're looking it through a radon lens. Can you speak to that? Is there a middle ground that we can find, or do you have any advice to people who may feel that way?

Kelley: Please don't. It's really important. The adaptations that we're doing, making our homes more energy efficient is super important. We have to continue to do that. Climate change is an issue that we all need to address. It's also important to know that through that process, there's impacts of that, and what are they and what can we do to reduce in this case the health risk as a result.

We've done work with both other federal departments who are involved in promoting energy efficiency, and also energy efficiency audit programs. What we've found actually is when you go out there and start talking to Canadians who are making their homes more energy efficient, they're just thankful to be aware of radon, and then to take action on it. In real life, in the work that we've done, we haven't seen it as a disincentive, and we certainly don't want it to be.

Madeline: Kind of a cohesive and collaborative approach to both issues. It's not one or the other.

Kelley: Exactly.

Madeline: I think we'll have colleagues at Environment and Climate Change Canada who will be happy to hear this.

Kelley: Absolutely.

Madeline: We're on the same page. With various issues, we can work to do our best with everything involved, and that doesn't mean that climate change should be off the table at any point. I'm happy that you emphasize that for us. I appreciate you joining us. We could talk all day. I'm sure we could. [laughs]

Kelley: Yes.

Madeline: I really appreciate your insight, and you have such a collected approach to something that may be a bit of an emotional topic for people. It's really nice to speak to you about this. For listeners who are watching or listening via YouTube, we'll have links and resources in our description, but if folks want to learn more about radon and the relationship to climate change, you mentioned there's a place they can go. Perhaps you can repeat what that might be.

Kelley: Yes. Just to learn about radon in general and that some of the research that we've done around radon levels in homes and how they're increasing, so There's lots of great resources, and also information on how you can contact us if you have more questions.

Madeline: Okay. Thank you so much. We appreciate your time. I wouldn't be surprised if people are clicking that into their browser right now. I think there's lots more to learn. Thank you for sharing that with us.

Kelley: I hope so. Thank you. Thanks for helping raise awareness about this really important issue.


Madeline: Thanks for tuning in to Healthy Canadians: Behind the Science. If you're watching on YouTube, don't forget to click the like button and subscribe to stay up to date on future episodes. Find us wherever you get your podcast, and leave a review if you like what you've heard. For more information on health topics that matter to you, visit For now, I'm your host, Madeline Poplett.

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