Radon testing

Radon testing is an essential precaution to take when moving into a home. Let’s say you are ready to buy your new house. You have checked that your Home Insurance Policy will cover the $100,000.00 soil removal and remediation costs arising from any leakage in the capped oil tank outback.  You have checked the tap water for lead levels.  You have done a spore count test for mold in the damp basement.  You have checked for asbestos in the walls and insulation of the home.  You have even made sure that your neighbor appears to be a warm and friendly human being.

But Wait!

Have you done radon testing in the occupied areas of your home?  I recently attended a lecture given by Scott Cryer at Pinching Environmental Ltd. and I was left with the impression that you better have.

By way of background, Pinching Environmental Ltd. (905-363-0678) is a company used by some of our clients to conduct environmental testing, monitoring, and remediation supervision associated with the purchase and management of ICI properties.  According to Health Canada, an investigation of 9000 homes nationwide revealed that approximately 7% of Canadian homes have radon levels in excess of the Canadian Standard of 200 Becquerel’s per cubic metre, our standard being twice the World Health Organization standard of 100 Becquerel’s per cubic metre.  The Canadian standard was recently dropped from 800 Becquerel’s per cubic metre.  According to Health Canada,” on average, 10% of lung cancers are attributable to radon exposure worldwide. In 2006, an estimated 1,900 lung cancer deaths in Canada were due to radon exposure. Radon is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking”.  While this far exceeds the number of annual Canadian deaths due to gunshots and fire, it is almost ignored by the press because the effects are long term.

You can test for radon. Home Depot sells kits and so does Pinchin Environmental.  The cost is about $100.00 including lab fee.  Unfortunately Health Canada recommends that the tests occur over at least 90 (ninety) days to account for many differences that affect levels of radon including the use of heating, air-conditioning, temperature outside, open windows and other factors.  You can however get a shorter snapshot result in 2 (two) days.  The preferred method is a small ionization chamber left in the area to be tested, but away from meddling children / pets.  In most houses the highest radon level and therefore the area to test would be the basement apartment (assuming you even care about the nanny or basement tenant), or if you are like me, the living room where you watch TV and fall asleep on the couch. I have a few of these units at my law firm that you can buy from me at cost.

We are a long way from having every house being tested and registered for radon levels in the way Toronto restaurants are forced to post their health inspections. I am not sure I want to know my radon levels and very slightly more uneasy that a third party laboratory will know my radon levels.  Until recently it seems that no one seemed to care about radon levels.  In effect the government and real estate industry had stuck their collective heads in the sand about the issue.  Mr. Cryer would agree that having your head in the sand is about the worst place you would want it to be to avoid exposure to radon.  You see, radon is generated from the breakdown of naturally occurring uranium in the soil resulting in colourless, odourless and tasteless airborne (and to a lesser extent waterborne) radiation. As noted, the Real Estate industry who has known about this issue for years does not seem to care.  In the dozens of deals that cross my desk every month I have yet to see a clause for the testing or remediation of radon levels.  Interestingly, every standard form of Agreement of Purchase and Sale contains clauses about urea foam formaldehyde isolation (UFFI) which is of far less concern.  There are cracks appearing however. Our friends at Tarion, the people that have a statutory obligation to register and insure new homes and new home builders, are considering adding 7 (seven) year warranty protection for radon gas issues.  They are for the first time in the process of paying radon related claims.

By the way, there are ways to get rid of the stuff.  Most ways involve creating a pressure differential so that air in contact with the soil outside the home around the basement or sub-floor does not enter the home in an occupied area.  Some newer buildings have roughed in piping to allow for this should post construction levels of radon warrant it.  Some school boards and public buildings are alive to these issues but in general Canada lags well behind the United States and other jurisdictions in awareness and testing of radon levels.  Mr. Cryer for one, would never live in (or buy) a house without extensive radon testing being conducted. I pity the agent or lawyer that has him for a client.

If you wish to learn more about this issue I have attached some useful links below.

Health Canada – http://hc-sc-gc-ca/ewh-semt/radiation/radon/protect-proteger-eng.php

Canadian National Environmental Association

National Radon Proficiency Program – http://www.radongas.org/cnrpp.shtml

Written July, 2012 by Sheldon Tenenbaum,  partner at Tenenbaum& Solomon, Barristers & Solicitors.

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