School board moves swiftly to stem radon risk

By Robert Frank

Sir Wilfred Laurier School Board (SWLSB) has taken measures to safeguard students and staff, after scientific tests detected the presence of radon gas in several of its schools.

“We’ve been very transparent,” SWLSB spokeswoman Maxeen Jolin told The Suburban in an interview. “We notified parents to keep them abreast, when we initiated the three-year testing program in 2011.”

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 (Bq) per cubic metre.

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

Instruments found radon levels above the 200 Bq/m3 limit in four schools: John F. Kennedy in Chomedey and St. Vincent in St. Vincent de Paul, as well as in Mountainview and St. Jude in Deux Montagnes. A becquerel is one radon atom decaying per second.

SWLSB moved immediately to take corrective action, even though it had two years to do so (one year in the case of St. Jude, which had levels over 600 Bq/m3).

According to Jolin, “the corrective measures include drilling a hole in the basement floor and installing a pipe with a fan that draws the radon gas from under the building and pushes it outside, which can reduce radon levels by more than 90 per cent.”

Other methods involve increasing ventilation, sealing entry points and extracting air from and installing membranes in crawl spaces.

“Whenever anything untoward was detected, we sent notices to the parents,” Jolin explained. “The schools’ governing boards received copies of the test reports. Everyone knew about it. We had nothing to hide.”

“Knowing that we were taking measures to reduce radon levels was very reassuring for the community,” she continued. “At one school meeting with the local heath authority, about 45 parents showed up. A doctor was on hand and everyone was understanding.” 

“We provided Internet links to information about radon, so we never received subsequent questions about it,” Jolin added.

Retesting this year showed that SWLSB’s corrective measures worked at St. Vincent school, where levels dropped below the 200 Bq/m3 limit. John F. Kennedy and Mountainview schools each had one room that remained over the limit, though and ten rooms in St. Jude school, which was first tested only this year, will be reassessed this winter, now that remedial measures have been implemented. 

In addition to the retesting, SWLSB will complete the third and final year of its assessment from January to March 2014.

The as-yet untested SWLSB facilities include: Franklin Hill, Joliette Elementary, Joliette High, Lachute Centre, McCraig, Our Lady of Peace, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Pinewood, Rawdon, Rosemere High, Terry Fox, Twin Oaks and all CDC Laurier campuses, save for Pont Viau, as well as Arundel Nature Centre and SWLSB headquarters.

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