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West Kelowna, B.C. school evacuated after radon maintenance work left lingering odour

Click to play video: 'Helen Gorman Elementary School evacuated out of an abundance of caution'
Helen Gorman Elementary School evacuated out of an abundance of caution
A West Kelowna School had to evacuate its students Monday, after a strong odor from maintenance work overpowered the classrooms. As Randi-Marie Adams reports, the smell was from a sealant used to repair foundation cracks helping to prevent exposure to the naturally occurring radioactive gas radon – Nov 29, 2022

When Helen Gorman Elementary School students returned to class on Monday morning, they were greeted by an unpleasant smell.

According to a press release from Central Okanagan Public Schools, the West Kelowna, B.C., school’s operations staff confirmed that the air quality was safe. Workers replaced all ventilation filters, and students and staff did not return to their classrooms for the remainder of the school day.

“The air handling system had been off over the weekend. It was sort of a serendipity of events and hadn’t cleared the smell,” said superintendent Kevin Kaardal.

“It was safe — the chemicals, it wasn’t an issue. So because it was uncomfortable we moved students to Glenrosa Middle School.”

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As explained in the press release, the odour was caused by a sealant being used to maintain the school’s foundation.

To ensure schools remain safe from environmental exposure, Kaardal said this type of work is done regularly.

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“It’s a proactive measure in our district we participated in this starting two years ago. We do all the radon testing in all of our buildings,” said Kaardal

“There is no concern, there is no health concerns around radon.”

Click to play video: 'Summerland participates in 100 free Radon Test Kit Challenge'
Summerland participates in 100 free Radon Test Kit Challenge

According to the Government of Canada, radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rock. It is invisible, odourless and tasteless.

Radon released from the ground into the outdoor air is diluted and does not pose a health risk. It can, however, accumulate to high levels in enclosed spaces, such as homes, and become a health hazard.

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Interior Health’s medical health officer, Dr. Silvina Mema, said it’s a leading cause of cancer in Canada.

“Radon is the leading cause of cancer among non-smokers and it’s the second leading cause of cancer for smokers,” said Dr. Mema.

Click to play video: 'U of C study examines radon exposure and peoples’ access to testing'
U of C study examines radon exposure and peoples’ access to testing

Health risks associated with radon can be prevented. If exposure levels are high, testing can help reduce exposure. Dr. Mema says radon is proven to be higher in the Interior region compared to the rest of the province.

The BCCDC has information on radon, what you can do to keep you and your family safe as well as an interactive map showing where the highest levels of radon are in the province.

Dr. Mema recommends everyone test their homes or workplaces for radon. You can purchase a kit from the BC Lung Foundation, which includes shipping and testing results.

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