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to Know

Community Right to Know is an initiative which aims to make British Columbians aware of the harmful substances in their home, workplace and environment so that they can make informed decisions and take action to impact their health.

Asbestos exposure is directly linked to mesothelioma and lung cancer. Radon exposure is a leading cause of lung cancer, only second to tobacco. A growing body of evidence is showing that cosmetic pesticide exposure may be linked to cancers in children and in adults.


What is it?

Asbestos is the name for a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals that are durable, heat resistant and inexpensive. Asbestos is a mineral used widely in construction materials and many other industries.

Click here for images and common uses of asbestos

Why is it an issue?

Exposure to asbestos is known to cause many cancers including lung cancer. Before 1990, asbestos containing building materials were widely used in Canada. Although they are regulated today, you may still be exposed to asbestos in older buildings or from imported products. If asbestos fibres are enclosed or tightly bound in a product, for example in asbestos floor tiles, there are no significant health risks. It is only when these products start to wear out or are broken apart during renovations or demolitions that asbestos is released into the air and becomes a health risk. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Even low levels of exposure can increase your cancer risk.

What we are doing

The Society believes people have the right to know if they are being exposed to cancer-causing substances in their home, environment or workplace. This allows Canadians to make informed decisions that could impact their health.

The Society and the Canadian Medical Association have joined forces, urging the federal government to create a central public registry of all buildings containing asbestos in Canada.

The Society is also working to increase public awareness of the health risks of asbestos.

What can you do?

If you suspect that a building material in your home has asbestos, then you should have it tested.

If you have asbestos in your home that needs to be removed, you should hire a professional contractor experienced in asbestos removal. You should not attempt to remove the substance yourself. Contractors and businesses involved in renovations should inform their employees as well as people who may be nearby during asbestos removal to ensure their safety. To safely dispose of asbestos-containing materials, contact your municipality.

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What it is

Radon is a naturally occurring, colourless, odourless cancer-causing gas that can build up in your home. It is caused by the natural decay of uranium in rocks and soil.

Why is it an issue

Exposure to radon gas increases your risk of lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking and the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.

Exposure to high concentrations of radon at any age is harmful. Children exposed to radon can have an increased risk of developing lung cancer later in life. Risk increases with the level of radon concentration and the length of exposure. If a person or child is exposed to elevated radon levels in their daily environment (such as home, workplace, or care center), they could be at risk for developing lung cancer later in life. Preventing exposure to radon will help reduce this lifetime risk, which is why the Society recommends taking swift action to reduce high radon levels.

Exposure to cigarette smoke and radon significantly increases the risk for developing lung cancer.

Health Canada estimates that 16% of lung cancer deaths in Canada are caused by radon and that an estimated 500,000 Canadians are living in homes that exceed the federal guidelines for radon gas exposure.

There are no immediate symptoms related to radon exposure and no known health effects other than lung cancer. There are also no medical tests available to see if you have been exposed to radon.

What we are doing

The Canadian Cancer Society believes people have the right to know if they are being exposed to cancer causing substances in their homes, environment or workplaces. This allows Canadians to make informed decisions and take actions that could impact their health. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends measuring radon levels in the home to see how they relate to the recommended guidelines. There is no known safe level of radon exposure, and different health organizations have slightly different recommendations. The following trusted and recognized health authorities recommend taking quick action to reduce radon levels if they exceed these amounts:

  • Health Canada 200 Bq/m3
  • World Health Organization 100 Bq/m3
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency 70 Bq/m3 – 148 Bq/m3 (2-4pCi/L)

The Society is currently working with partners at Interior Health, Northern Health and the BC Lung Association to educate British Columbians about the dangers of radon exposure.

What can you do?

Get your home tested. Testing or measuring indoor radon levels is the only way to see if you are at risk of exposure. A radon test kit costs between $15-100 and usually includes a lab analysis of the results. Test kits can be found at most local hardware stores, through a certified radon testing professional, through Northern Health, or through the BC Lung Association.

If your home does test positive for high levels of radon there are several things you can do right away:

  • There are certified radon mitigation contractors who can help you to fix your home or can advise you of the best next steps.
  • They may suggest upgrades such as to seal any cracks around pipes and any other openings below ground. Opening air vents in the basement to create positive air pressure may also be suggested.
  • Installing an active soil depressurization system (also known as sub-slab depressurization system) may be recommended. An active system creates a vacuum-like affect which pulls the radon gas from the ground level into a pipe and vents harmlessly into outside air for the gas to dissipate. This pressure change helps to prevent radon from collecting inside the home. Active soil depressurization is the most common and typically the best way to reduce the level of radon in your home.

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What are they?

Cosmetic pesticides (or non-essential pesticides) refer to pesticides (fungicides, herbicides, insecticides) used to enhance the appearances of private lawns and gardens, and public lands such as parks and playgrounds.

Why is it an issue

A growing body of evidence suggests that pesticide exposure may be linked to cancers in children and adults. Research to date does not provide a conclusive link between pesticides and cancer, but the evidence does suggest a possible association with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and prostate, kidney and lung cancers. Studies on pesticides and childhood cancer show a possible connection with leukemia, brain tumours and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Children are at a greater risk from pesticide exposure than adults because they are closer to the ground and their bodies are still developing. Children are more likely to have hand to mouth contact with pesticides due to playing outside on the lawn.

Once dispersed, pesticides unfortunately not only affect the targeted weed or pest but also impact non-target plant, animal and human health in our shared environment.

What can you do?

Join the growing momentum! Talk to your local elected officials and ask what they are doing to protect you against exposure to cosmetic use of pesticides. In Canada, many communities and provinces are taking action to restrict pesticide use. Let your locally elected official know that you support restrictions including the following:

  • Restrictions on the use of cosmetic chemical pesticides with an excluded list of low risk pesticides and alternatives
  • A comprehensive public education program to increase awareness and understanding of cosmetic use of pesticides and alternatives to cosmetic pesticide use

When it comes to provincial legislation in British Columbia, let BC's leaders know that you support:

  • Provincial restrictions on the sale, use or transfer of cosmetic pesticides with an excluded list for low risk pesticides and alternatives
  • Upholding the rights of municipal governments and school districts to make their own bylaws and policies to regulate, restrict or prohibit the use of cosmetic pesticides

For more information about pesticide regulation in BC or if you have any questions or concerns about the cosmetic use of pesticides in your community, contact the BC Ministry of Environment's Integrated Pest Management Program.

What we are doing

The Canadian Cancer Society, BC and Yukon, is advocating for a ban on the use and sale of cosmetic pesticides across BC. To date, 39 municipalities have restrictions on the use of cosmetic pesticides on public and private lands. However, municipalities can only control the use of pesticides, not the sale. Many municipalities do not have restrictions on the use of cosmetic pesticides, leaving many British Columbians unprotected. The good news is many provinces in Canada have taken action to reduce cosmetic pesticide use. Through the ongoing work of the Canadian Cancer Society, BC and Yukon, and our many dedicated volunteers, we are building support for cosmetic pesticide legislation. To date, there is no province-wide legislation banning cosmetic pesticide use in British Columbia.

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