Nova Scotia

Tender issued to remove radon at school

The South Shore Regional School Board is ordering renovations to an elementary school to remove pervasive levels of radon gas.

The South Shore Regional School Board is ordering renovations to an elementary school to remove pervasive levels of radon gas.

The radon was first detected at Hebbville Academy, just outside Bridgewater, after the province ordered testing in March 2010 of all public buildings for radon.

Follow-up tests were done this past winter, and results indicated levels of radon were above the guidelines for school hours.

The tender to fix the radon problem was issued Wednesday.

The elevated levels are not considered an immediate health risk, but dealing with radon is now part of managing public buildings across Nova Scotia.

For Crystal Publicover, the presence of radon gas at her son's school was a surprise, though the school board did make the findings public knowledge.

"I wasn't aware of it. I'm glad the school has stood up and is fixing it.  I'm glad because it could cause health problems," said Publicover.

Radon was found in 11 or 13 rooms at the Primary to Grade 5 school. The odorless and colourless gas is the product of decaying uranium, and prolonged indoor exposure has been linked to lung cancer.

This week,  the school board issued a tender to remove the gas.

Remediation has been ordered because extensive testing has shown the entire building is likely to exceed Health Canada guidelines for radon during the school day.

School board officials say it doesn't pose a health risk to students.

Removing radon

"These are precautionary steps to make sure there is no increased risk. When these levels are found, the goal is to reduce those levels, even though they're low," board superintendent Nancy Pynch-Worthylake said.

"That's typically done in two ways — it's done by ventilating that area in question, or it's done by drilling through the school floor to remove the radon gas before it can enter the building itself."

The academy's situation is not a unique one.

"We were involved in the mitigation of a number of schools in HRM last summer, it's becoming quite prevalent as people become more aware of radon and its dangers," said Kerry Doubleday, owner of Radon Atlantic Consultants.

"It's generally in line with what we're seeing in the general population, all buildings are at risk of high radon levels. But the only way to know that is to test."

New schools like Citadel High in Halifax are built to handle radon.

The Halifax Regional School Board has carried out major fixes at nine schools since 2009, spending $130,000 overall.

"It's a fact that it is now considered a safety hazard in an occupational area," Doubleday said.

That's the way the South Shore school board sees it.

"Managing this is part of the ongoing process of health and safety for students and staff in a province where radon gas is naturally occurring in buildings, including homes," said Pynch-Worthylake.

The board said it would meet the Health Canada guidelines to fix the problem, within two years of detection.