WHITEHORSE —The Yukon government will make radon testing a licensing requirement for new and existing child care centres and day homes in the territory.
If the tests are positive, those same facilities must also act to reduce radon gas concentrations, the government announced Oct. 19.
"I'm really proud to say that Yukon is leading the way on this," Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost said in an interview.
Currently, no other Canadian jurisdiction mandates radon testing to obtain a day care or day home licence, the minister said.
The territory has alerted all licensed child care centres and day homes to make them aware of the impending requirement, Frost said.
A timeline for the changes has yet to be established, but it will occur in phases.
Radon is a naturally-occurring, colourless, odourless, radioactive gas that is created through the breakdown of uranium in soil and rock.
If the gas seeps into a structure and accumulates in high levels, radon inhalation can result in lung damage and an elevated risk of cancer, said a bulletin on the Health Canada website.
"The health and safety of all Yukon children is the top priority for this government. So this new requirement will ensure that all children in licensed day care centres and day homes throughout the Yukon will be protected," Frost said.
Yukon NDP Leader Liz Hanson asked the government last week if it had decided to add mandatory radon testing to a 72-point assessment checklist that covers everything from ensuring the water supply meets Canadian standards "to placement of thumbtacks," which the centres must comply with to get a licence to operate.
In a 2017 capital asset management report, the Auditor General of Canada noted that the Department of Health and Social Services has known about "unacceptable levels of radon in some of Yukon's licensed day cares and day homes," since 2008, Hanson told the legislature.
Erik Simanis, the owner-operator of Radon Measurement and Mitigation Yukon, said radon levels vary across the territory.
"There's potential for it to be everywhere. I've done lots of work in Whitehorse and in the communities as well," he said.
"There are certainly some spots that are worse and some that are better."
Testing for radon in a two-storey, six- to eight-bedroom building would cost a few hundred dollars, he said.
The price of radon remediation can range between $1,500 and $5,000 depending on a building's size and construction.
Foundations, crawl spaces and unfinished rooms are common areas to test for high concentrations of radon presence in a building, he explained.
Last winter and spring, the Yukon government tested care facilities, group homes, and young offender facilities that Health and Social Services is responsible for, Frost said.
She could not confirm whether a particular facility was found to contain high levels of radon.