Good Science in Plain Language

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know!


Now that we know more about this “natural” risk we can test our homes then put our feet up, relax, and watch that latest Netflix movie.

Now that we know more about this “natural” risk we can test our homes then put our feet up, relax, and watch that latest Netflix movie


By Maria Costa and Curtis Caldwell, Chief Scientist of Radiation Safety Institute
updated November 20, 2017


There was a time when smoking tobacco was a rite of passage but then we learned of the health problems associated with it. Now we take measures to limit those risks, and smokers smoke away from spouses, children, friends, and coworkers.

Asbestos, a durable fire-resistant material was popular in building construction until it was discovered to have a link to lung cancer. Now when asbestos is discovered during a renovation all work ceases, workers leave the site, and a brigade of hazmat wearing professionals take over until the risk is mitigated.

A deep tan used to be a sign of a fun and healthy life until we learned that repeated, unprotected exposure to the sun’s rays can cause skin damage and cancer.

The tobacco plant is natural; asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral and what could be more natural than the sun, that star at the centre of our solar system?


The word “natural” often puts us at ease but sometimes something natural carries with it great risk.


All these risks may make us want to hole up at home and never come out, but what about radon gas, a “natural” source of radiation? Radon gas is created through the breakdown of uranium in the soil, and it is omnipresent. This gas does exist in our homes and exposure to high levels of radon can lead to lung cancer. This information can cause great worry but the good news is that we now know that we can do something about it! Radon is a heavy gas, so it is recommended that the lowest level of our homes, often the basement, be tested.

Basements were once used to store potatoes and preserves, but now they have become the busiest area of the home with state of the art family/media rooms. This does not mean we should move the flat screen upstairs and put a padlock on the basement door. Testing our homes for radon is easy and affordable, and if excessive gas is present, the fix is straightforward.

Now that we know more about this “natural” risk we can test our homes then put our feet up, relax, and watch that latest Netflix movie.



About the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada:
Founded in 1980, the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada is an independent, national, not-for-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of cancers due to excessive exposure to radiation. Its mission is to promote radiation safety and awareness through sharing science and best practice.

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