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NS library card lets you borrow a radon detection unit

A radon detection unit

JOHN McPHEE-The Chronicle Herald
A radon detection unit. JOHN McPHEE

HALIFAX, N.S. - Homeowners worried about radon levels have a new tool at their disposal: their library card.

Members of the Nova Scotia library system can borrow a radon detection unit as part of a program announced Wednesday at Halifax Central Library.

“Radon can easily enter the home undetected through cracks, gaps in the floor, foundation walls, windows and doors,” said radiation specialist Lance Richardson-Prager of Health Canada at the announcement.

“You can’t see it, smell it or taste it so the only way to know if it’s a problem is to measure, and that’s to test.”

The library put 20 digital monitors into circulation Wednesday and 30 more will be added at the end of December. They can be borrowed for up to six weeks.

Radon, a radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in the ground, is the second-leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. It kills more than 100 people every year in Nova Scotia, about 16 per cent of all lung cancer deaths, said Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, at the announcement.

A Department of Natural Resources map of radon risk areas was projected behind the speakers. The higher-risk areas have rocky, granitic geology, such as Peggys Cove, parts of Lunenburg County, the Tobeatic region, Canso and Ingonish.

But even homes in the areas designated low-risk could have dangerous levels, Strang noted, which underlines the need for individual testing.

The radon units for the borrowing program were purchased with $20,000 from DNR and $10,000 from Health Canada, said Robert MacDonald, CEO of the Nova Scotia Lung Association, which is spearheading the program, the first of its kind in the country.

The Lung Association also gives away 500 radon kits in a promotional program and sells about 1,500 each year for $40 each.

“This (kit lending program) is more of an awareness piece. . . . We still get that question every day: What’s radon?” MacDonald said in an interview.

He credited Nova Scotia public library staff for donating their time and providing the distribution platform.

A monitoring unit should be in the home for at least 90 days to get an accurate reading. If high radon levels are detected, the homeowner should hire a certified contractor for more testing and to possibly install a fan and piping system that disperses the radioactive gases outside.

Such mitigation work can cost between $1,500 and $3,000, said Bill Horne, a ministerial assistant at DNR, and there is no provincial or federal government funding or tax-break programs to help.

“At the moment, it would be similar to having a well. You should check the water before you start drinking it, and if it requires treatment, you should treat it as necessary,” Horne told reporters.

Richardson-Prager of Health Canada said a provincial working group on radon, which has been dormant, will be re-established and will look into finding ways to help homeowners with mitigation costs such as tax breaks.

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