A Waterdown resident is urging the local school board and provincial government introduce mandatory testing in high risk areas for radon — the second leading cause of lung cancer among Canadians. 

A colourless and odourless gas that is naturally produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, radon can seep through a crack in a building’s foundation. 

Robert Graham has been in a two-year long battle with government officials to have testing done at school sites.

“I think the fear is if they test a few of the schools, especially the one-level schools, that if they found that they have high levels that everybody is going to panic,” he said.  “It’s not to cause panic it’s just to see are kids still going to schools that may have this radon leakage problem - you don’t know unless you test.”

A grandfather to four children, Graham said the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board has so far been mum on whether it will test some of its facilities. 

“I kind of gave up on it because I thought nobody really wants to test,” he said, crediting school board trustee Karen Turkstra for being receptive to his concerns. 

Health Canada recommends that long-term radon detectors be placed in schools, where possible, for an optimal period of 10 months during the school year. 

Radon not a 'required test' for school board, trustee says

The agency recommends that the long-term average of radon concentration during school hours stay below 200 Bq/m3 – the recommended upper level for detection.

Turkstra told CBC Hamilton that the school board is compliant with all provincial Ministry standards and “at this time it is not a required test that Boards must undergo.”

“I am not opposed to testing specific sites if that is what Facilities Management and the Health and Safety Committee are recommending,” she said, adding such an initiative has not come before the school board. 

“The Board and staff always put student and staff safety and well being in the forefront of all decision making,” Turkstra said.

A Cross Canada Radon Survey conducted in 2009/2010 shows that 4.4 per cent of homes in Hamilton were above that level. 

The city has kept the location of those homes private, but Graham would like to see schools in those areas tested. 

“All I’m asking is pick where they think it could be possible, if they know the where there has been high levels in homes, and test schools in those areas,” he said.

No radon testing done in HWDSB schools, spokesperson says

HWDSB spokesperson Mark Taylor said radon test are currently not done in the schools.

“We are studying radon testing to learn more information about it,” he said, mentioning that the board will have a representative at a Radon symposium hosted by the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada in Toronto next month.

In 2011, Richmond Hill MPP and Minister of Research and Innovation Reza Moridi first introduced a bill that would require the creation of an online registry, as well as a map, for completed radon tests. 

“This legislation, if passed, would compel the testing of publicly owned buildings, with special attention paid to day care facilities, elementary and high schools and community centres where children inhabit,” Moridi said. 

Current estimates are that 2,000 people, or 10 per cent of all lung cancer deaths, are as a result of radon exposure in homes. 

Moridi said it should be a requirement that all public schools in Ontario are safe and radon free. 

“Children who are exposed to radon gas will, unfortunately, have a much higher chance of developing lung cancer than others in later stages of their lives as radon gas takes some time to develop into cancer,” he said.