British Columbia

Children's health group calls for mandatory radon testing in daycares, schools

Testing for radon, a cancer-causing radioactive gas, is not required across most parts of Canada, and a national children’s health group wants to see that changed in schools and daycares.

Some areas of B.C. have higher-than-recommended levels of the radioactive gas

A do-it-yourself radon test costs between $30 and $50. (CBC)

Testing for radon, a cancer-causing radioactive gas, is not required across most parts of Canada, and a national children's health group wants to see that changed in schools and daycares.

Several areas of British Columbia are known to have levels of radon above the guidelines set by Health Canada. Almost one in three homes in Prince George, for example, were found to have higher-than-recommended levels in 2015. 

Erica Phipps, the executive director of the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment, is calling for mandatory radon testing in all child-care facilities and schools.  

"It's simply not acceptable for our children to head off to school or child care in the morning to a place where radon may exist at levels above which the Government of Canada has said are acceptable," Phipps told Carolina de Ryk, the host of CBC's Daybreak North.

Radon is an invisible, odourless gas that is caused by the decay of radium in rocks and soil. It's the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking and, according to Health Canada, kills 3,200 Canadians a year.

"We are concerned about long-term exposure," Phipps said. "The problem with radon is that it can seep into our homes, our schools and our buildings through cracks and gaps in the foundation and build up to harmful levels."

Radon gas, a radioactive byproduct of radium, seeps into buildings from the surrounding rock and soil. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)

Testing for radon

Testing for radon is neither expensive nor difficult, Phipps emphasized. A do-it-yourself kit can cost as little as $30 and resolving a radon problem is similar to other building maintenance costs like repairing a roof or upgrading a heating system.

"These are costs that are not astronomical. The remediation for radon is really straightforward and the problem can be solved," she said.

Guidelines for radon testing vary from province to province. 

Testing for radon in schools and daycares is not provincially mandated in B.C. Some jurisdictions, though, are pushing  testing on their own.

B.C.'s Interior Health Authority sent free testing kits to daycares in 2014 and made radon testing a requirement for licensed child-care facilities in May last year.

In other provinces and territories​, it's a government-led initiative. 

Yukon recently announced it will make radon testing and mitigation a licensing requirement for all child-care facilities.

Four other provinces — Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island — have tested all their public schools for radon. 

"This is an issue that is starting to gain some traction," Phipps said.

She encouraged parents to speak up and ask questions about what kind of radon precautions are in place.

"Just a few parents asking the question may trigger that thought process on the part of school officials to get the ball rolling," she said. "Change happens when you get that critical mass of voices."

With files from Daybreak North.

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