Lung Saskatchewan is providing up to $1,000 for homeowners in the province who pay to have radon removed from their homes.
The radon mitigation reimbursement program was created in late 2020. The grants are part of the organization's Carrying Breath Financial Assistance program, which is funded by the Conexus Credit Union. Lung Saskatchewan will provide reimbursements until the financial assistance program runs out of funding.
Radon is Canada's leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. Exposure to the radioactive gas causes about 4,000 lung-cancer deaths each year in Canada, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority website.
A new report on radon levels in Weyburn found more than half of homes tested were above Health Canada's guideline of 200 Bq/m³.
But Bethany Verma, Lung Saskatchewan's health promotion co-ordinator, said high radon levels aren't limited to that city.
"Saskatchewan is definitely a hot spot, we have some of the highest radon levels in the world," Verma said.
"In Saskatchewan we have a lot of uranium in our soil, so that's part of why the radon levels are so high."
Tough to detect, expensive to get rid of
Odourless, tasteless and naturally occurring, radon gas is created from the decay of uranium in minerals found in rock, soil and water, according to Lung Cancer Canada.
Radon is most prevalent in homes, but also appears in workplaces and schools. The only way to know if radon is present is to use test kits in indoor spaces.
Radon test kits typically cost under $100, but the national average installation cost of radon mitigation systems is approximately $3,000, according to a Take Action on Radon news release.
A new study conducted by University of Calgary researchers found that one-third of Canadians who have tested high for radon, who then acknowledged they have a radon exposure issue, can't afford to remove the the radioactive gas from their homes.
"That bracket was largely associated with simply being younger, these are folks with young families, they haven't climbed the job ladder yet," said Dr. Aaron Goodarzi, U of C associate professor and scientific director of Evict Radon.
"They have a lot of expense and of course they're prioritizing, quite understandable, those versus being able to fix radon at a time where it would be ideal for them to do so."
Dr. Goodarzi said younger people are far more at risk to suffer from the consequences of early life radon exposure.
Lung Saskatchewan hopes the reimbursements will be an incentive to install the mitigation systems.
"We thought that if we could cover up to $1,000, we can kind of spread the money across multiple people getting some help in covering up to half of that mitigation," Verma said.
All that is needed to be eligible for the program is to have the procedure done by a certified radon mitigation expert.
Mitigation reimbursements are a step in the right direction
There are multiple provinces providing radon mitigation support. Manitoba offers $1,500 for mitigation to low to moderate income families and those fighting lung cancer, while Ontario covers the entire cost of radon mitigation systems for new homebuyers.
Pam Warkentin, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists, said having monetary support is a step in the right direction.
"It's great to see some of these opportunities become available," Warkentin said.
Warkentin said the next important step is building up the number of people able to install the systems.
"If people just test and they stop there, they're not actually reducing their risks," Warkentin said.
"We need people to fix it."
Spreading awareness around radon
Warkentin said the pandemic led to an increase in awareness around indoor health, including the dangers of radon.
"I think a lot of people don't test their homes because life is busy and that just hasn't been a priority for them," Warkentin.
"But during the pandemic, now the workplace is your home and the onus is on you to make it a safe place."
Warkentin noted exposures likely increased during the pandemic because people were spending more time at home.
Saskatchewan has made November Radon Action Month. Saskatchewan Lung has partnered with Tackle Radon, which has football players telling the stories of lung cancer survivors and encouraging people to test their homes.