WINNIPEG -- Winnipeg homeowner Marci Tyc was immediately concerned when she borrowed a radon monitor from a friend and put it in her basement.

“She’s a very good friend of ours and wants to make sure that we’re all healthy, and so we did it,” said Tyc.

High levels of radon, would be anything over 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m^3) which is Health Canada’s current guideline for indoor air.

“We had a level of 2700,” said Tyc.

She quickly took action, calling a professional to do further testing, and to install a radon mitigation system in November.

“My mother died of lung cancer and we are trying to do many things in our home to make sure we’re safe and healthy,” she said. “So we decided to mitigate it.”

Radon is an odourless, colourless, radioactive gas with links to lung cancer.

“We know it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking, so it would be the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers,” said Johnston. “It’s thought that in homes with high levels of radon you have a one in 20 chance of getting lung cancer and if you smoke it’s one in three.”

Winter time is the time to get together with family and friends, it’s also the time to test for Radon.

“The wintertime is when we tend to congregate indoors and that’s when the radon tends to accumulate more because we have less ventilation,” said Neil Johnston, CEO of the Lung Association of Manitoba.

Manitoba is the province with the second largest number of homes with high radon levels.

According to data gathered by the Canadian - National Radon Proficiency Program, on average 20 per cent of homes in Manitoba have levels above the Canadian guideline. There are some areas of the province, closer to Brandon and Morden-Winkler, that have a closer to 50 per cent rate. 

“We know that some regions in the province, we’re finding actually are some of the highest regions in the country,” said Pam Warkentin, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists and the Canadian - National Radon Proficiency Program.

Radon gas comes from the soil as product of uranium, which is a natural part of soil.

“Urainium decays,” Warkentin explained. “It’s a soil up until it turns to radon and when it becomes radon it’s now a gas and it comes up through the soil and into the outside air.”

She said outside radon is at low levels, but when it seeps into our homes and builds up inside - that is when it becomes a health risk.

“It creates cell damage in the lung tissue and can lead to lung cancer,” she said.

Warkentin said the only way to know the radon level in your home is to do a test.

A kit can be bought and a little puck-like device is placed in the lowest part of your home where you spend the most time. You leave it there for an extended period of time and send it off to a lab for testing. There are also more expensive digital models with real-time monitoring, but Warkentin cautioned that those have not been thoroughly independently tested for effectiveness.

She also said adding a radon mitigation system to your home is easy.

Homes in Manitoba are built with a rough-in pipe for this purpose, so if a homeowner wanted to install a system, which involves extending the pipe outside, they can. Warkentin said on its own the rough-in pipe doesn’t do anything and some homeowners have mistaken it for plumbing.

“The problem with this is that homeowners don’t know what it is, it’s usually not properly labeled,” she said. “Most of the time when it’s installed people just write the word radon on it.”

Tyc says since getting the radon mitigation system, radon levels have been testing at below 100 Bq/m^3. Even with this done, she said she will be checking the levels every so often and encourages other homeowners to do the same.

“Just check it, just see,” she said.

The Manitoba Lung Association suggests doing a radon test every five years, after any major renovations, or if there are any changes to the soil on your property.

Health Canada said more than 3,000 Canadians die each year from radon-induced lung cancer and recent research shows only 29 per cent of people with high radon levels took steps to reduce it.

You can visit the Canadian- National Radon Proficiency Program's interactive map to see how many homes have been tested in your area.