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Radon gas suspected in Prince George, B.C. family tragedy

By Karen Graham     Oct 11, 2015 in Environment
A Prince George, B.C. family suffered an unbearable tragedy this year when the mother of the family died from stage 4 lung cancer that according to doctors was probably caused by radon gas.
Al Huggett is a social worker in Prince George. He and his wife, Sandra were the parents of two daughters. The family was to learn that Prince George was a hot spot for radon gas but failed to take advantage of a January 2014 community radon testing project conducted by the British Columbia Lung Association (BCLA).
Radon is formed by the deterioration of uranium in rocks and soil. Besides being radioactive, it is odorless and colorless and is known to cause cancer. But knowing about the gas came too late for the Huggett family. "We thought about getting testing, but we kept putting it off," Huggett told CBC News. "It was not really high on our list of things to do."
A sudden illness and tragic death
About this time last year, says Huggett, his wife became ill with a cough and pain in her chest. "I took her to the emergency room. She had Stage 4 lung cancer," he said. The kindergarten teacher and mother of two loved being outdoors and she did not smoke.
"It was quite a shock," said Huggett. Only six months after being diagnosed with lung cancer, Sandra Huggett died. Her doctors told Al Huggett that radon gas was the likely cause of his wife's cancer.
Radon gas in Canada
Britt Swoveland is a spokeswoman for the RadonAware program with the BCLA. She says radon "is a leading cause of lung cancer in Canada, and the number one cause in non-smokers and never-smokers, the second leading cause behind tobacco."
The BCLA has released the results of the community testing project that covered 2,000 homes. (Of the 2,000 test kit sent out, 1,436 kits were returned. This accounted for a 71.4 percent return rate). About 30 percent of the homes tested higher than the national standard. Health Canada’s radon exposure guideline is 200 Bq/m3.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's guideline is 148 Bq/m3, and the World Health Organization's guideline is set at 100 Bq/m3. All these guidelines show an international consensus of a narrow guideline range for taking action.
Of particular interest is the results for the central part of the city, or the V2M postal code. In this area, 56 percent of homes tested higher than the national standard. "It's naturally occurring, radioactive, tasteless, colourless, odorless," said Swoveland. "You just don't know it's in your house unless you test."
A map of the postal code areas for the city of Prince George  B.C.
A map of the postal code areas for the city of Prince George, B.C.
The radon test kits cost $30, and homes with elevated levels of radon can usually be fixed for around $2,000, according to the BCLA. It was also noted that new building codes should prevent radon gas from being a problem. Mr. Huggett said, "There's tons of room for our society to do something about this issue. It's not an expensive thing, but it would save thousands of lives."
More about Radon gas, prince george bc, hot spot, Lung cancer, highlevels