10/11/2015 05:17 EDT | Updated 10/10/2016 05:12 EDT

Radon Gas Suspected In Prince George, B.C., Family Tragedy

"It's naturally occurring, radioactive, tasteless, colourless, odourless."

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'A continuous radon monitor is mounted to a tripod in an unfinished house basement. A house is commonly tested for radon with a single use test kit. If initial readings are high or remediation work has begun a system like this would be used to determine a more accurate measurement over time. An added benefit of this unit is real time measurement. The display screen reads Avg. 3.5 pCi/l (picocuries per liter), the curie is a unit of radioactivity. The background is unfinished drywall with seams and screws.'

Prince George, B.C., is a hot spot for radon, according to the largest community test ever conducted in Canada for the deadly gas.

Radon is caused by the decay of uranium in rocks and soil. It is present across Canada, seeps into homes from the ground and is known to cause cancer.

Knowing about the gas came too late for Al Huggett, a social worker in Prince George.

"We thought about getting testing, but we kept putting it off," he said. "It was not really high on our list of things to do."

Sudden sickness

Suddenly his wife, Sandra, became sick.

"Last year at about this time, she had a cough, pain in her chest," he said. "I took her to emergency. She had Stage 4 lung cancer."

The mother of two was a kindergarten teacher, avid about outdoor recreation and did not smoke.

"It was quite a shock," said Huggett.

Sandra Huggett died six months after being diagnosed, at the age of 54.

Radon blamed

Doctors told her husband that radon was likely to blame.

"It is a leading cause of lung cancer in Canada," said Britt Swoveland, spokeswoman for the RadonAware program with the British Columbia Lung Association. "The No. 1 cause in non-smokers and never-smokers, the second leading cause behind tobacco."

The lung association has released to Prince George city council the results of tests done on 2,000 homes.

Thirty per cent tested higher than the national standard.

In the central part of the city — the V2M postal code — 56 per cent of homes tested higher than the national standard.

"It's naturally occurring, radioactive, tasteless, colourless, odourless," said Swoveland. "You just don't know it's in your house unless you test."

$30 test

Tests cost $30 and dangerous homes can be fixed most of the time for less that $2,000. New building codes are being introduced that should prevent radon being a problem in new homes.

"There's tons of room for our society to do something about this issue," said Huggett. "It's not an expensive thing, but it would save thousands of lives."