Canadians spend more time indoors than outdoors. We are at schools, workplaces, stores, and home. Because we spend so much time indoors, we have become more concerned about the relationship between Indoor Air Quality and health.
We keep doors and windows closed to reduce energy costs during our long, cold prairie winters. Buildings and houses are built to prevent leaks of air, water, insects and vermin. The outdoor air is often cleaner than the indoor air. People have very different reactions to any component of the air.
Frequently the first thing that comes to mind when people suspect an indoor air quality problem is to test the air. If you want to assure yourself of good indoor air quality in your home, testing is not the best first choice. Air testing can be very expensive. An air sample result does not tell you why you might have a problem or suggest solutions. Data alone may raise more questions than answers.
A trained Indoor Air Quality investigator bases the investigation on building science principles. They begin the investigation with a history of the house and household activities of the occupants. They inspect inside and outside. They try to identify the problem and its causes or sources. They provide information to help remove the causes.
There are times that a qualified Indoor Air Quality investigator is not able to definitely identify the cause of an indoor air quality problem. Indoor Air Quality is influenced by ventilation, occupant activities, outdoor air source, and building materials, to name just a few components.
Sometimes Indoor Air Quality problems result from the conflict between energy costs and air quality. We keep our doors and windows closed tightly to keep warm air inside during winter, and outside during summer. In winter we keep our drapes closed to keep the room warmer but this makes the windows sweat and water runs down the walls. If we leave the blinds open, the air circulates and the windows sweat less, but this increases heating costs.
Many Indoor Air Quality problems can be solved by you! Don't let anyone smoke inside your home. Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) reports tobacco smoke is the largest single source of indoor air contamination. Keep your homes clean and tidy. It is a good idea to do an annual inventory of your possessions - throw out anything you no longer use. Clutter collects dust and mould. Avoid burning scented candles. For good Indoor Air Quality you need a continuous source of fresh air.
If a private homeowner wants professional help, CMHC provides the names of individuals in Saskatchewan who have completed the CMHC Residential Indoor Air Quality Investigator Program. The CMHC may be phoned toll-free at 1-800-668-2642.
Commercial air quality services may also be found in the Yellow Pages under listings including inspection services, engineers, environmental consultants, laboratories. The Environmental Health Department does not test Indoor Air Quality parameters.
For more detailed information about indoor air quality, visit the Canada Mortgage and Housing website and Health Canada's website. Environment Canada has outdoor air quality information. Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and Canadian Lung Association are also sources of air quality and health information.
If you want more information about the Indoor Air Quality in your workplace, please contact:
your workplace Occupational Health and Safety representative, or
- Occupational Health and Safety Branch (Saskatchewan Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour) at 306-787-4496 or 1-800-567-7233, or
- Labour Standards Branch (Saskatchewan Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour) 306-787-2438 or 1-800-667-1783 (main switchboard for all general workplace inquiries).
The Prince Albert and area Public Health Inspection Office offers these websites only for your interest and does not assume any responsibility for your use of the information provided. Always see your doctor if you have any questions about your health.
Radon is a tasteless, colourless, odorless, radioactive gas that occurs naturally in the environment. The Radon gas results from the natural breakdown of uranium. Radon can be found in high concentrations in soils and rocks. Radon escapes from the ground soil naturally. When it escapes into outdoor air it mixes with fresh air and is diluted to very low levels. When it enters an enclosed space, such as a crawlspace or basement, it can build to high levels.
Studies have shown that long-term exposure to high levels of radon increases the risk of developing lung cancer. In 2006, there were about 19,000 deaths from lung cancer in Canada. Smoking is still the major cause of lung cancer. Up to 10% of lung cancers are the result of radon exposure. If you smoke and are exposed to high levels of radon over a long period of time, your risk of developing lung cancer is even greater. The Canadian Medical Association Journal compares the risks of developing lung cancer depending on the level of radon exposure.
There is great geographical variation of Radon levels. Indeed, neighbouring homes may have very different Radon levels. There have been surveys of public buildings and homes in Canada but the data is incomplete and the mapping will require additional surveys. Health Canada is currently conducting a number of radon testing projects in federal buildings and homes across Canada to get a better understanding of radon levels across Canada, which will allow them to more effectively target education and awareness activities. Given the amount and type of testing and surveys that are required to create an accurate radon map of Canada, the development of the radon maps is expected to take a number of years to complete.
Health Canada does not advocate the use of such a map to determine whether a home should be tested. Experience from other countries has demonstrated that providing a radon map to the public can create a false sense of security or panic and can contradict the public outreach objectives of getting people to test their homes and remediate if necessary. The only way to know if there are elevated levels of radon in your home is to test. Health Canada is urging all Canadians to test their homes regardless of location.
In 2007 Health Canada adopted the new Radon guideline of 200 Becquerel's per cubic metre (Bq/m3). This lower guideline was applied to reduce the risk of exposure for Canadians. This new guideline compares with international Radon guidelines. Guidelines are recommendations, only. Currently there is no legislation for allowable limits for radon in homes.
The Health Region encourages all homeowners to have their homes tested for radon. The Research Ethics Board of Canada requires all study results remain confidential. Any information that discloses the identity of the participant in any way cannot be published or released to the public. This includes the location of the houses.
Testing is the only way to know about Radon in your home. To have your home tested contact a qualified radon testing company. The Occupational Health and Safety Branch, of the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour, maintains a list of companies that are certified for Radon testing. For the most current list of companies certified to test for radon gas visit their website at www.labour.gov.sk.ca/radon. Health Canada suggests testing for a minimum of three months, for the best results. Radon levels can vary day to day, and seasonally. Radon levels are highest in winter and this is the best time to test for radon.
The Public Health Inspection Unit does not test for Radon.
For testing contact:
Saskatchewan Disease Control Laboratory
Telephone Number: 306-798-0046
Toll Free: 1-866-450-0000
5 Research Drive
Regina, SK, S4S 0A4