Work from home arrangements helped many companies stay healthy during the pandemic but it may have exposed workers to unhealthy radon levels in their homes. Office buildings, hospitals, restaurants, and other public places often have advanced ventilation systems and indoor air quality (IAQ) protocols in place to protect the air people breathe. These same ventilation systems and focus on indoor air quality are not as prevalent in private residences.
Dr. Aaron Goodarzi of University of Calgary’s Charbonneau Cancer Institute has studied how the pandemic has affected radon exposure for Canadians working from home. So far, his studies reveal that because of the pandemic people have spent 10.6% more of their year in their primary residence and have experienced a 20% increase in radon exposure.
Young people and radon exposure
Increased radon exposure has “impacted young people more, and so we are seeing a bias toward the young,” says Goodarzi. Perhaps young people spent less time at home pre-pandemic – whether it be in an office building, university campus, in a school setting, or just out socializing at restaurants and venues. Young people have now experienced two years of working from home, taking classes from home, and restricting social activities outside of the home. Dr. Goodarzi's study, "Consequences of changing Canadian activity patterns since the COVID-19 pandemic include increased residential radon gas exposure for younger people," reveals how changing work patterns are affecting health risks for young people.
Spending more time in one’s home highlights the need for radon testing. Radon is a gas that forms when the uranium in the soil beneath a home decays into radioactive atoms and seeps into the home through cracks in the foundation, crawl spaces, and basements. Modern homes are especially susceptible because their airtight “energy efficient” nature traps radon within the home. Radon is radioactive. When radon is inhaled into the lungs, the radioactive radon damages/breaks the DNA in the lung cells. Long term exposure to radon causes lung cancer.
Dr. Goodarzi recently visited our European office and discussed these issues. He is the Canada Research Chair for Radiation Exposure Disease and Lead of Science Communication for the University of Calgary’s Charbonneau Cancer Institute.
Radon is an invisible and odorless gas that is the number one cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers and the number two cause of lung cancer in the United States and Canada. It is responsible for 24,000 deaths per year in the U.S. and Canada.
Working from home presents higher radon exposure risks that need to be considered by employers and employees alike.Testing a home for radon can be provided by a certified professional or completed using a simple home test. If radon levels are above the actionable limit of 4.0 pCi/L (in U.S.) or 200 Bq/m3 (in Canada) then a radon mitigation system should be installed in the home by a certified professional to lower the radon levels. Simple home tests are available from Radonova in the United States and Canada.
What are possible solutions?
“It's too new to fully know exactly what is going to be appropriate. Many people are opting into full-time telecommuting or hybrid telecommuting,” says Dr. Goodarzi. These arrangements were an emergency response to the pandemic but have transformed into formalized work agreements.
Working from home arrangements appear to be here to stay. “As a researcher who studies cancer and is working to even predict the future of lung cancer I know that we have to respond to these changes today or we will see an increased burden of future lung cancers as a consequence of these (working from home) changes.”
Radonova is the laboratory of choice for numerous government radon surveys, as well as other public, and private sector large-scale measurement contracts around the world. A truly global laboratory, Radonova is active in over 50 countries and has performed millions of measurements.