School District 20 has recently released a letter summarizing the results of radon testing throughout the district. The testing and plans for remediation were done in consultation with Interior Health (IHA), which is reflected in the fact that the letter is co-signed by Dr. Sue Pollock, the medical health officer for IHA, and SD 20 superintendent Greg Luterbach.
The testing was done in every school in the district from November 2015 through March 2016. “We did the longer term tests and did it over the winter and early spring because that is when radon levels are the highest,” said Luterbach. Testing units were placed in multiple locations within each school, mostly in basement and first floor areas as this is where readings will be the highest.
Previous radon testing was done in 2009, but was done in the summer/fall which doesn’t reflect the current recommendations for testing.
The West Kootenay region is known to have high radon levels, with Castlegar being especially of concern. “Not surprisingly, given what we know in the community, the Castlegar areas were probably the ones where if we were going to see high results, where we would expect to see them,” said Luterbach.
The Canadian guideline for radon is a maximum of 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3). Health Canada recommends that areas with readings between 200 and 600 Bq/m3 be remediated within two years and areas above 600 Bq/m3 within one year. Nine schools had no readings above the 200 Bq/m3 level. Health effects associated with radon are cumulative over the long-term, with an increased risk of lung cancer being the only known effect.
Stanley Humphries Secondary School had only one reading over 200 Bq/m3, but it was the highest reading in the district. The reading of 408 Bq/m3 was found in the basement storage area, a location where neither students nor staff spend time. Two basement classrooms had readings of 176 and 178 Bq/m3.
The school with the most concerning numbers is Kinnaird Elementary School. Tests were placed in six locations and the results were 88, 138, 204, 231, 231 and 250 Bq/m3. Even though the Kootenay-Columbia Learning Centre – Castlegar Campus didn’t have readings over 200 Bq/m3, it had several results close so it is also of concern. The majority of the readings at the remaining Castlegar schools were all under 50 Bq/m3.
For areas above the guideline, SD 20 is implementing temporary measures such as opening windows and increasing ventilation to lower the radon levels. The district also has a goal of reducing radon amounts in schools that were below the 200 Bq/m3 level.The district has also engaged a certified expert to evaluate the buildings for longer term mitigation. The consultant was recommended by Interior Health and lives and works in the area. An action plan is currently being developed; once the action plan is in place, it will be shared on the SD 20 website.
As time at school only makes up a portion of a child’s potential exposure to radon, IHA recommends that everyone test their homes. The summer is not the best time to test however, as open doors and windows increase ventilation in a home. Free testing kits can be obtained in numerous locations across the region, but you should wait until fall to do the test. In Castlegar the best place to obtain a kit is at Golder Associates, 201 Columbia Ave. To find out other locations throughout the region where testing kits can be obtained, visit ddschmidt.shawwebspace.ca.