Pearson attributes high radon readings to defective detectors

By Robert Frank

Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) facilities staff had to spend the summer vacation period redoing scientific tests for radon gas in three of its classrooms. The school board believed that its initial measurements indicated that the classrooms contained unsafe levels of radon, were aberrations caused by faulty test equipment.

“We’ve done all of the schools off the island of Montreal,” assistant director-general Carol Heffernan reported during a meeting of school board commissioners this summer. “At this point out of a couple of hundred dosimeters, there was one [off-island classroom] that indicated over 200 becquerels [per cubic metre of air].”

“We also tested all schools north of Highway 40 this year,” she continued. “We had 428 dosimeters in the schools and the centres in that area and two of them registered unusual amounts that were over 200 but less than the 600 that requires us to look at immediately. It was recommended to redo the testing.”

The ensuing retesting delivered the some of the results that the school board hoped for.

“All but one of [the dosimiters] were defective or [had been] tampered with. The [test results from] the last one are unsure,” LBPSB chair Suanne Stein Day told The Suburban in an electronic mail message.

Stein Day added that the classroom in question will be retested during the winter.

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that emits alpha particles that can damage lung tissue. In 2007, after scientific studies established a link between radon and lung cancer, Health Canada lowered the maximum safe limit of radon for interior air to 200 becquerels per cubic metre.

“To date, we haven’t been required to take any measures because of the [readings] over 200 becquerels because the schools are in line with what the ministry guidelines are,” Heffernan said in response to a question by LBPSB commissioner Barbara Freeston.

Stein Day said the Quebec Education Ministry has insisted that all schools have a radon level less than 200 becquerels.

“If the results are greater than 600 [becquerels] then the school board has one year to make improvements,” she said. “If the results are greater than 200 [becquerels], then the school board has two years to make improvements.”

She explained that sometimes students tamper with the hockey-puck shaped measuring instruments that are placed in each classroom, suggesting that this might have produced the anomalous findings.

“They take them down and play with them,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to find such a variance in the [radon] readings in [just] one classroom.”

Heffernan indicated that the findings are the initial part of a three-year safety program to evaluate radon levels in all LBPSB schools.

Stein Day added that the Quebec Education Ministry has made the radon testing mandatory.

Health Canada has indicated that there is no scientific evidence that radon exposure causes other kinds of cancer, asthma, coughing or headaches.

“All evidence from the experts suggests the likelihood that the three radon dosimeters were defective or tampered with, not that the schools have any radon level of concern,” emphasized LBPSB chair Suanne Stein Day.

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