Get to know the NRC's radon research this Radon Action Month

 

- Ottawa, Ontario

With the increased number of people working remotely and setting up home offices, it's more important than ever to ensure that your home provides an environment that is healthy for you. One way to enhance your home's environmental safety is to monitor its radon levels. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is produced by the decay of uranium found in most rocks and soil and is known to build up in homes, in some cases to dangerous levels. You can't see it, smell it, or taste it, making it easy for the radon gas to enter your home undetected.

Silent and potentially deadly, Health Canada warns that radon exposure is linked to more than 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in Canada. Long-term exposure to radon gas is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. This is just one of the many reasons why the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) is doing research and development focussed on increasing radon safety for Canadians.

Know your radon level, test your home

There are 2 common types of testing devices to measure the amount of radon in your home. The first type is a 1-time-use detector that is set up in a fixed location for 90 or more days and then sent to a lab for analysis. This method is cost effective, and provides a certified lab report and record of the radon concentration in your home that you can refer back to. The second type of testing device is a digital radon monitor, which is reusable, fast, and often has advanced functionality like wireless connectivity. These additional features come with increased costs.

How the NRC is contributing to radon research

The NRC's Advanced Electronics and Photonics Research Centre leveraged additive manufacturing, specifically printed electronics, to develop a digital radon monitor prototype to lower the costs of parts and assembly. This new prototype uses a 2-electrode electrostatic concentrator made from a thin PET (polyethylene terephthalate) sheet (a type of polyester) and conductive ink which is laser cut and assembled without the need for adhesives.

The NRC developed a direct-reading radon monitor prototype in 2009 using sensor technology developed in the lab at Carleton University. Since then, the project has enabled both undergraduate and graduate students to hone their skills in sensor development. Fast forward to July 2017, and the sensor technology left the lab and was transferred to a modern manufacturing process for commercializing. The Advanced Electronics and Photonics Research Centre's Organic Materials and Devices team, as well as the Digital Technologies and Construction Research Centres all contributed to making the latest prototype a reality.

Taking awareness to the next level: research to help mitigate and prevent indoor radon levels

If you find elevated levels of radon in your home, the next step is learning how to mitigate it. This is why the NRC's Construction Research Centre and Health Canada have been working in partnership to find mitigating solutions through our research since 2011. The ultimate goal is to ensure Canadians have access to qualified and cost-effective solutions to minimize health risks related to radon gas exposure and to provide guidance for radon prevention and mitigation.

Over the past several years, our researchers have been conducting ongoing field and lab studies to provide measurable data on the performance of 3 current methods to help control radon levels in homes and buildings:

  • Passive radon stacks—a radon-mitigation method that uses a vent pipe to exhaust radon gas building up beneath a home's foundation.
  • Radon barrier materials—housing foundation materials, such as foam insulation or asphalt, installed using standard construction techniques to prevent radon from entering the home.
  • Heat and energy-recovery ventilators (also known as HRVs or ERVs)—ventilation systems to increase overall ventilation rates and improve indoor air quality are being tested to determine their impact on indoor radon levels.

This research work on radon-control methods helps provide scientific evidence to the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCBFC) and their standing committees to develop relevant revisions to current radon-control mitigation measures found in the national model building code.

NRC researchers from the Construction Research Centre are also in the process of conducting a study to investigate indoor radon levels as they relate to building depressurization (when more air is exhausted outside a home than is coming in). The data from this study will be used to help inform the technical committee of the CSA Group in their current standards-development work for CSA standards F300, Residential Depressurization and F326, Residential Mechanical Ventilation Systems.

Some of the results of the team's ongoing radon studies have been shared with the scientific community, and have recently been published in international peer-reviewed journals on Passive soil depressurization in Canadian homes for radon control  and Radon Infiltration Building Envelope Test System: Evaluation of Barrier Materials.

Take action on radon

Learn more about radon and how it gets into your home at Canada.ca/radon. For information about home radon testing kits, or to find a radon-mitigation professional in your area, visit Take action on radon.