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This article was published 7/3/2018 (594 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba school divisions are readying to roll out radon screenings, after free testing kits became available last month on a first-come, first-served basis.
Darren Thomas, risk manager for the Manitoba School Boards Association, said about five minutes after he emailed a memo to all the province’s school divisions, saying there were six kits up for grabs, they were all gone.
The association then bought four more kits, at about $200 apiece, to shorten the wait list.
Radon is a colourless, odourless gas arising from the decaying of radium and is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, according to CAREX Canada, a research program monitoring carcinogen exposure across the country. The gas is present in Manitoban soil, and can enter buildings through ground floors.
Children are most susceptible to radon exposure, which can lead to lung cancer later in life.
Some provinces, such as Quebec, have implemented mandatory screening tests in schools and daycares, Thomas said. Manitoba has no such rules.
According to a CAREX survey (published in a November 2017 report), Manitoba was among the provinces with the lowest instances of radon testing.
At least 76 of 940 schools in the province were tested, while 831 schools’ testing status was unknown, the research project said. Another 33 schools had not been tested for radon, though 18 of those had expressed interest.
"When the CAREX summary came out, there was obviously some need for improvement. And I took it upon my office to say, ‘OK, let’s get some testers out there and let’s get these answers,’" Thomas said.
The last round of radon testing in Manitoba schools happened in partnership with the federal government between 2009 and 2011 — but those results were lost, according to Thomas.
"The information that we had was not available. And I thought, ‘You know what, let’s just start fresh on this so that we control the information and we know the problem areas for all the school divisions.’ And this (info) will be kept in-house, so we can reference this," he said.
The results of the screenings will not be made public unless the school divisions wish to make them so, he said.
Two schools — one in Winnipeg and one in the Westman area — previously tested over recommended guidelines, though Thomas wouldn’t say which ones. Both were "remediated" and brought up to code with fans and new systems put in place to improve air flow.
Thomas said he doesn’t think the province needs to legislate mandatory screening tests for radon, adding school divisions are handling the issue appropriately.
"From our past testing, we didn’t really have an urgency to move on (mandatory testing). It’s always a good idea to do the testing, but we didn’t find results that were out of line (or) that were scaring us," he said, adding future testing will likely be done at each school every two years.
Winnipeg’s Pembina Trails School Division has the Manitoba School Boards Association memo included in its school board meeting agenda for Thursday. The division is currently in the second of a three-year radon testing plan, according to Supt. Ted Fransen.
"In 2011, we participated in a proactive research project with the University of Manitoba to test for radon gas in our schools with basement-level classrooms," Fransen said Tuesday by email.
"The final results revealed that the levels in all our buildings were below Health Canada requirements."
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, March 7, 2018 at 12:43 AM CST: Adds to top ten