Radon exposure - media coverage (Noah Q.)

February 25, 2018

Noah Quastel, Nicholas Blomley's prevous postdoctoral fellowship, participates in a MITACS project waring the radon exposure on Vancouver's North Shore and the Sea-to-Sky corridor (CBC News and North Shore News).

CBC News - http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/b-c-scientist-suspects-sea-to-sky-north-shore-could-be-home-to-high-risk-radon-1.4541339

North Shore News - http://www.nsnews.com/news/researcher-puts-north-shore-radon-potential-on-radar-1.23173192

Details of MITACS project (tailored): Radon is a cancer-causing radioactive gas produced by the natural decay of uranium in rocks and soils. It is the second-leading cause of lung cancer (after smoking) and the primary cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. 16 per cent of lung cancer deaths in Canada are attributable to radon exposure—approximating 3000 people a year. Radon can become trapped and accumulate in buildings, potentially reaching high levels in indoor air. Canada’s Legal rights and remedies to respond to radon in Canada are largely inadequate and dispersed across multiple statutes, and where they do exist are focused largely on new construction. Renters are likely to have little knowledge or legal recourse. Given the high volume of radon related cancer deaths there is a pressing need for a coordinate legal response to the problem.

On this project I have teamed up with the Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (CARST), a leading professional organization and advocacy network, which in turn works in partnership with multiple organizations concerned about radon, including CAREX Canada, provincial lung associations, Take Action on Radon, the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment (CPCHE), and the Canadian Association of Environmental Law (CELA).   I am being funded through Mitacs Canada, which offers exciting opportunities for Postdoctoral Fellows to bring academic research to industry and civil society organizations.

The project is focused on the state of the law and the radon exposure of renters across Canada. Many tenants’ experience unhealthy housing conditions, while having limited opportunities to ameliorate the situation. Research in this area has found tenants reported multiple indoor environmental health issues in their housing units, problems with landlords, and inadequate help from an unclear “system” of health, legal, and social services.  While tenants suffer adverse physical/mental and social health impacts as a result of substandard housing many also reported receiving only partial or temporary resolutions.  Renters are also disproportionally at risk of radon exposure. In North America about 70% of tenants are young adults with children. This group is typically of low socio-economic status and is less likely to have knowledge about the risks of radon exposure or the means and rights to have their dwellings tested and repaired. They are also less likely to know about radon risks. Moreover, literature also shows tenants have limited resources and lack of authority to take remedial actions resulting in higher radon exposure. CARST thus seeks a detailed analysis of the laws governing residential tenancies and how they address or fail to address radon.  This request includes a review of law governing the private rental market and any rules and policies governing state-owned social housing, noting where any differences arise. As part of this research, CARST seeks recommendations for law reform options to improve radon protection measures in residential tenancies.

This project is particular interesting to me as a legal geographer and political ecologist. My research is showing that there are deep fractures between traditional legal concepts of housing, property and home and Twenty-First Century imperatives of public health and environmental justice.  Understanding radon exposure requires moving beyond traditional legal categories to examine the entire process of how living spaces are designed, built, and exchanged in markets  There remain deep disagreements among law-makers, government agencies and public advocates for how to transform housing to be radon safe, but also unique new opportunities for collaborative problem solving and decision-making.