Five years ago Dana Schmidt’s wife died of lung cancer as a result of radon poisoning in their Castlegar home. Many homes in the West Kootenay town had levels of the gas far exceeding the safe limits.
Now Schmidt is hoping to spread the word about the dangers of the gas.
Schmidt was part of a delegation from the Canadian Cancer Society in Cranbrook council Monday. Patti King, Canadian Cancer Society health promotion team leader, said an estimated 500,000 Canadians live in homes that exceed the guideline.
“Radon enters the house through small spaces in the soil and rock upon which a house is built,” King said. “It can seep through dirt floors, cracks in concrete, sumps, joints, basement drains and concrete block walls.”
King gave out radon test kits to members of council that test for concentrations of the gas over a number of months to see whether it is present in the home.
She said the East and West Kootenays are regions that have higher rates of radon present.
Schmidt said on Sept. 13, 2008 his wife was working out on the treadmill when she came down with a headache.
“The next two and a half, three months I got to learn a whole lot about lung cancer,” Schmidt said. “She died on the 7th of January, 2009.”
He was mystified how someone who was so healthy could come down with the disease and die so quickly.
Schmidt also has a PhD in toxicology and worked in air pollution control in Montana in the 1970s.
“I kind of thought everything causes cancer, it’s just one of those things,” he said. “But I found out the levels that radon are allowed create 500 times the rate of deaths than we would get with any other air pollutant found in the environment. Basically the average radon found in a home in Castlegar is equivalent to smoking full time. It’s the same risk.”
Radon seeps through the foundation and the key to bringing down the levels is putting a basic hole in the foundation, ideally when the home is built, and venting it just like sewer gas. A fan on the vent pipe ensures that there is a negative pull on the gas.
In his own office, Schmidt said they managed to drop levels by 95 per cent. They found levels 20 times the limit at the home of a single mother and once the vent was in place saw those levels drop by 98 per cent.
Castlegar had proposed a building bylaw that was rejected by the ministry, that required new homes to have the standpipe in the basement hooked up to a vent. It would cost a few hundred dollars per home.
Coun. Gerry Warner said, as someone who grew up in Castlegar, it was more than a bit alarming to hear.
Schmidt said many of the schools in the Castlegar area were mitigated 10 years ago, so he said the problem has been known for a number of years.
Schmidt’s foundation, the Donna Schmidt Memorial Lung Cancer Prevention Society, donates long-term radon detectors to households and businesses in the West Kootenay. Schmidt hopes to soon distribute the detectors out of Cranbrook as well. They suggest a $15 donation.