Ó Caoláin raises radon threat to schools
The discovery of very high levels of dangerous radon gas in 13 schools was raised in Leinster House last week by Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. In response, the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Willie O'Dea, confirmed that remedial action would be taken but also that many schools had not taken up the invitation to be tested for radon. Ó Caoláin called for testing of schools to be made compulsory.
Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and published in a national newspaper on 19 February shows that 13 of the schools surveyed in the State so far have radon gas levels so high that immediate remedial action is required. Two of the schools in question are in County Cavan - St Mogue's College, Bawnboy and St Mogue's NS, Ballyconnell. The former Minister for Education and Science, Mícheál Martin, disclosed in January that some schools have radon levels above the 200 becquerels per cubic metre safety limit or Reference Level, as it is known technically. Plans for remediation at the schools have already been set in train. Addressing the Dáil on Tuesday night, 7 March, Ó Caoláin said:
``The Radiological Protection Institute tells us that a lifetime exposure to radon gas at the Reference Level carries a 1 in 50 risk of contracting fatal lung cancer. This is twice the risk of death by road accident. Of course, exposure to the levels revealed in the 13 schools carries a far higher risk. Pupils and staff in high-radon schools are daily exposed to life-threatening levels of radiation. It is absolutely essential that the minister now moves swiftly to eliminate this risk in our schools.
``Since 1998, surveys have been carried out in schools throughout the State by the Radiological Protection Institute but the testing scheme is, in my view, totally unsatisfactory. Schools have been invited to participate and if they do not take up the invitation they are not tested. Pupils and staff are thus left with possibly very high levels of radon gas undetected in the buildings where they spend most of the day.
``According to the Radiological Protection Institute 1998 Annual Report, almost 200 schools declined the opportunity to be screened for radon risk in that year.
``Given the very high level of radon discovered in 13 of the schools surveyed so far, it is surely necessary now to expand the scheme to cover all schools. The minister should make the survey Statewide and ensure that every single school is included.''
In reply, Minister of State Willie O'Dea said that all schools have received information on radon and that the Department of Education and Science will meet the cost of mitigation of the radon threat in affected schools. He said that schools which declined to participate in earlier phases of the survey will be invited to participate in the third phase.
The Cavan/Monaghan deputy welcomed the assurances on the provision of information and remedial action but repeated his call for the test to be made compulsory for all schools.