Testing schools for radon

The Okanagan - Similkameen School District is currently testing their facilities for radon gas.

Radon is a colourless, odourless and naturally occurring gas created by the decay of radioactive isotopes in the ground. Interior B.C. is at an elevated risk for the cancer-causing gas, and more attention has been paid to the issue in recent years.

Last year the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils passed a resolution calling for regular testing in B.C. schools, and many districts have taken the suggestion in stride.

The last time radon testing was done in B.C. schools on a large scale was in the early ‘90s, but the B.C. Lung Association says much has changed since then.

“It’s not a given because you tested 20 years ago and you were below the Health Canada guidelines, the guidelines have shifted. In 2007 the Health Canada guideline dropped from 800 (becquerels per cubic metre) to 200, ” said Britt Swoveland, B.C. Radon Aware Coordinator.

She added that things like energy retrofits installed in buildings can have an impact too.

“The variables that create a high radon level change. Subslab conditions under a building can shift, building systems age… there should be a policy in place where schools are testing over so many years,” Swoveland said, suggesting a five year cycle.

The Ministry of Education does not have any requirements of testing for radon gas, despite it being responsible for 16 per cent of lung cancer deaths in Canada.

The Town of Oliver has set aside over $2,000 in next year's budget for radon remediation work at town hall, and the Kootenay - Columbia School District, School District 53, found elevated levels of radon at one of their elementary schools.

SD 53 Director of Facilities, Deb Sansome doesn’t expect the results from their tests to be ready for a couple months.

The Okanagan Skaha School District, School District 67, says they are developing a testing program of their own.

“We have attended seminars with Interior Health to determine our possible exposure, trained some senior maintenance staff and are reviewing our existing processes and procedures to ensure student and staff safety,” said SD 67 Director of Facilities Doug Gorcak.

He said it's “likely” they will test their most at risk areas at some point.

The B.C. Lung Association says the winter is the best time for everyone to test for radon gas, as homes, businesses and public buildings are sealed up.


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