Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this important discussion.
I'd like to share a few perspectives based on our work to raise public awareness, particularly among families with young children, about the lung cancer risk posed by radon and what can be done to reduce that risk.
My name is Erica Phipps. I serve as executive director of the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment, CPCHE, a collaboration among public health, medical, legal, and child-focused organizations that have been working together for nearly 15 years to advance children's environmental health protection in Canada. The 10 core CPCHE partners include the Canadian Environmental Law Association—you've just heard from my colleague, Kathleen Cooper—and the Canadian Child Care Federation, which has been actively involved in our work to promote radon action in the child care sector.
Much of our work within CPCHE involves engaging with and learning from service providers, such as public health nurses and child care providers and others, who work with families on a day-to-day basis and empowering them to integrate children's environmental health protection into the support they provide to families.
I thought it would be fitting to start with one of their voices. These are the words of a child care provider in Winnipeg, who was one of the participants in the radon vanguard initiative that CPCHE and the Child Care Federation undertook last year, with support from Health Canada. She said:
I wouldn't want to work in a centre that had [high radon] and didn't do anything about it. I wouldn't want to do that. I wouldn't work there. And I wouldn't put my children in the centre either.
This child care professional had known very little about radon before getting involved, but she, like others in the project, was motivated to learn more because of her dedication to the children in her care and because she desired a healthy workplace. It did not take her or any of the other staff involved in the project very long to get that this is a critical issue and one that demands action.
Through the vanguard project, she and other child care providers shared information on radon with their client families and voluntarily tested their child care centres for radon. Through that process, the project participants made the transition from a group of people who had hardly even heard of radon to being nearly unanimous in rating it as a high priority for health in their centres.
When asked what they thought would need to happen to protect children and staff from this lung cancer risk, most felt that radon testing would somehow need to be made mandatory. In the words of another participant:
...what I see in child care tends to be...people don't take action unless they're forced to, unfortunately.... It's like carbon monoxide detectors, right. We never had them before and then finally we were forced to have them and so everybody got them. And you know meanwhile they're only like $40 dollars or $50, and yet people didn't do that before it was made sort of expected of [them].... I think unless [radon testing] was made mandatory or there was some kind of assistance in ensuring that it was done, I think it would be unlikely to get done...when it should be.
This viewpoint was echoed by others and supported by the results of the vanguard project. Despite good intentions and the fact that radon test devices were supplied directly to the participating day care centres, only two-thirds of them were able to complete the testing. What this suggests is that for a sector in which staff are already stretched, providing them with information—and even providing them with do-it-yourself test devices—is not likely to be enough.
CPCHE has been putting significant effort into radon outreach over the past few years, including developing a plain-language tip card for families and teaming up with Health Canada, the Canadian Lung Association, Parachute, and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs in a campaign that links radon testing to the more familiar home safety messages of smoke detector use and carbon monoxide detector use. I've brought copies, which you should have before you.
We have prioritized radon as a focus of our collective work because of the well-established high level of risk posed by radon and because we firmly believe that protecting children is an investment in lifelong health. The harm from radon exposure is cumulative, which means that if we can ratchet down exposures during childhood by promoting radon safety in homes and by zeroing in on those six to eight hours that many children spend per day in child care or other learning environments, we can give Canada's kids a better start towards lifelong health, such that their generation and future generations are less likely to suffer from the devastation of lung cancer.
There's also an equity question here. Radon exposure is a prime example of a housing-related health risk that is beyond the ability of low-income people, especially tenants, to address on their own. Knowing about radon is not enough if you can't afford to buy a test kit, let alone pay for a remediation. It is just this sort of issue that we are seeking to address in a new CPCHE-led initiative called “RentSafe”, which will build social service sector capacity to respond to health concerns in low-income housing.
Reducing the financial barrier to radon mitigation should be a matter of priority if we are to achieve the goal of healthier housing for all Canadians. That would potentially include the Green Budget Coalition ask that Kathy mentioned in her remarks, of having an income tax credit for radon mitigation. Federal leadership to help families get action on avoidable health risks in their housing, including radon, would be a well-targeted investment in the health and well-being of the people of Canada.
In our toxics work within the CPCHE partnership, we frequently bump up against the complexities of scientific evidence, fraught with great debates about cause and effect and proof of harm. Radon, regrettably, is refreshingly simple. Radon causes lung cancer, full stop. We know how to test for it. We know what to do if levels are high. We know that it amplifies the risk posed by the other big lung cancer culprit, tobacco smoke. Now we need the courage and investment to ensure that the homes and buildings where we spend time, and especially where our children spend time, are not a source of this preventable lung cancer risk.