Is it time to take radon testing in schools province-wide? The Prince George District Parent Advisory Council thinks so.

They’re co-sponsoring a resolution that will go before the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (BCCPAC) next month.

Prince George DPAC Chair Sarah Holland says they’ve raised the issue with the local school board before.

“When this had been previously brought up with our District, [they] went back to the education services committee. Basically, the message came back that…this was dealt with a number of years ago.”

School District 57’s interim superintendent, Sharon Cairns, wasn’t aware of the joint resolution but says her district has received requests by local PACs to have schools tested.

“I’m aware of requests from three PACs coming forward to request radon testing in their schools,” she says. “We’re looking into what kind of testing could be done fairly, economically and efficiently in our schools where the ground may be more prone to the collection of radon than others.”

Cairns admits that it may be time for the district’s Education Services committee to test again.

“They’re quite willing to look a this again, given that the testing was about 20 years ago. At this point in time, they’re quite confident in our schools.That doesn’t mean it isn’t something to be examined.”


Standards have changed

As Cairns says, the last round of district-wide testing was conducted about 20 years ago. Since then, Health Canada has revised its guidelines around radon exposure.

“The standards have changed,” says Holland. “So back at that point, the national guideline for radon was 800 Becquerels per cubic meter. At this point it’s 200 Bq/m3.”

Health Canada made the revisions in 2007, following a risk assessment that determined that even low levels of radon exposure were linked to an increased risk of developing lung cancer.

In the US, acceptable radon exposure levels are currently set at 150 Bq/m3. The World Health Organization has proposed pushing the levels even lower – to 100 Bq/m3.


Energy retrofits prompt concerns

Holland says there’s another reason local schools should be retested.

“Something that also has an effect on radon levels within a building is energy retrofitting. And I know that that’s something that the district has been doing is some energy retrofitting. It’s tremendous what they have done with that but that does have an impact on radon.”

But Cairns says the district’s energy retrofit program isn’t cause for concern.

“When they do retrofit schools, what they’ve also done, along with heating systems and lighting, is ventilation because of course it’s the ventilation that would allow radon levels to dissipate.”

Nevertheless, Holland says her DPAC will be lobbying BCCPAC to advocate for province-wide testing.

“The most recent revision of the resolution draft is calling for BCCPAC to do things like producing information on the hazards of radon gas, asking all districts to complete long term testing for radon and then to make that information publicly available.”


Funding for tests should come from province, says Holland

Holland says the joint resolution also calls on BC’s Ministry of Education to provide funding for the testing and any remediation measures that result.

“This is important. This is urgent but we don’t want to take away teachers…or take away support workers to fund something like this,” Holland stresses. “The District certainly doesn’t want to do that. We need to be able to find the money to provide for student safety.”

School board officials have previously described District 57’s current funding levels as “cut to the bone.”

According to RadonAware.ca, long-term testing kits for homes cost about $30. The cost for schools would likely be higher and remediation measures would cost even more.

The joint resolution will be heard by BCCPAC at its annual general meeting, scheduled for late April or early May.