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Canadians Urged to Renovate Houses to Check Radon Gas Radiation

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Uranium mining, which occurs in Canada only in northern Saskatchewan, is not generally to blame for radon gas seeping into homes. An exception is Oka, Que., where radioactive tailings from an old niobium mine has been blamed on elevated readings in homes, said Tracy.

Dave Lefebure, chief geologist with the Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources in Victoria, said low levels of uranium are found in granitic rocks throughout B.C. Only in certain areas are these background levels sufficient to cause radon gas problems in homes.

He said B.C. has never had a uranium mine, and not a lot of exploration activity.

Canada is poised to lower the guideline for radon gas in homes to 200 becquerels per cubic metre from 800 becquerels (a measurement of radioactivity), which means that thousands of homes that would have been considered safe are now viewed as a potential source of lung cancer.

For the relatively few Canadians who are aware of radon gas and have tested their homes for it, elevated readings can have a traumatic effect. "Oh God, now what?" is how Craig Besinque, a school bus driver from New Denver in B.C.'s West Kootenay region, responded. "We were pretty frightened."

He spent about $700 on supplies and did his own remedial work on his house, including sealing openings in the basement and installing a ventilation fan, and is now retesting with fingers crossed. "It's horrible to think your house has radon," added his wife, Lane Heywood, a retired teacher. "There are a lot of bad things to think about."

The World Health Organization estimates radon causes up to 15 per cent of lung cancers worldwide. An estimated 22,700 Canadians last year were diagnosed with lung cancer, one of the deadliest forms of cancer. The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is about 14 per cent, the B.C. Cancer Agency reports.

Health Canada has maintained the 800-becquerel guideline since 1988
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