Radon testing in schools begins now

Toxin cleanup next summer

By Tracey Arial

In the next month, the Lester B. Pearson School Board plans to begin testing for radon in all its Montreal schools south of Highway 40.

“It’s a three-month long test and it has to be done in the winter,” said Carol Heffernan, assistant director general of Lester B. Pearson School Board. “This area was the last region in Montreal that might have a problem, so that’s why it was left for last.”

The testing is being done at the request of Quebec’s environment ministry, which also has concerns about hydrocarbons on various school properties.

Hydrocarbons usually contain benzene, which is known to cause cancer in humans. Benzene and other aromatic hydrocarbons are considered risky because they can be absorbed through the skin or by breathing in addition to taking them in through the digestive system. Buildings located on or near hydrocarbon deposits are at risk for something known as vapour intrusion, in which airborne toxins infiltrate the premises causing breathing difficulties, fainting and headaches.

The Lester B. Pearson school board hopes to clean up the petroleum hydrocarbons C10 to C50 located on the property of the LaSalle Community Comprehensive High School next summer.

“The school used to offer auto mechanics as an option,” said Carol Heffernan, assistant director general of Lester B. Pearson School Board. “The oils were disposed into an oil tank that still exists underground.”

Heffernan says that the project to remove the tank has been put on the school board’s list of priorities for the summer of 2014. She expects the project to cost about $200,000.

The Ministry of Environment asked the school to test whether the tanks were leaking into the surrounding soil or the water a few years ago. In the summer of 2009, the school board set up six different bore holes inside and outside the school in the vicinity of the tank. The bore holes went down 12 and 14 feet so that soil samples could be taken below the ten-foot deep water table.

“It conforms to all the standards,” said Heffernan. “It’s not considered an immediate concern.”

LaSalle Comprehensive is one of three LaSalle schools listed on the Ministry of Environment’s list of contaminated land. The other two, Clement and Cavalier de LaSalle Secondary School, are within the Marguerite Bourgeoys school board.

Even schools that don’t appear on this list can contain toxins on their properties. Neither Verdun Elementary nor Riverview schools appear on this list. Despite that, the remains of old coke deposits were removed from Verdun Elementary’s school yard last summer during a million dollar playground rejuvenation.

Heffernan says that Riverview has a similar problem and has also been placed on their priority list for a clean-up next summer.

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