Interventions in Committee
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Kelley Bush
View Kelley Bush Profile
Kelley Bush
2015-06-18 16:07
Good afternoon. My name is Kelley Bush, and I am the head of radon education and awareness under Health Canada's national radon program.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for inviting me to be here today to discuss radon as a cause of lung cancer and to highlight the work of the Canadian – National Radon Proficiency Program.
Through the ongoing activities of this program, Health Canada is committed to informing Canadians about the health risk of radon, better understanding the methods and technologies available for reducing radon exposure, and giving Canadians the tools to take action to reduce their exposure.
Radon is a colourless, odourless radioactive gas that is formed naturally in the environment. It comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rock. When radon is released from the ground in outdoor air, it gets diluted and is not a concern. However, when radon enters an indoor space, such as a home, it can accumulate to high levels and become a serious health risk. Radon naturally breaks down into other radioactive substances called progeny. Radon gas and radon progeny in the air can be breathed into the lungs, where they break down further and emit alpha particles. These alpha particles release small bursts of energy, which are absorbed by the nearby lung tissue and lead to lung cell death or damage. When lung cells are damaged, they have the potential to result in cancer when they reproduce.
The lung cancer risk associated with radon is well recognized internationally. As noted by the World Health Organization, a recent study on indoor radon and lung cancer in North America, Europe, and Asia provided strong evidence that radon causes a substantial number of lung cancers in the general population. It's recognized around the world that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking, and that smokers also exposed to high levels of radon have a significantly increased risk of developing lung cancer.
Based on the latest data from Health Canada, 16% of lung cancers are radon-induced, resulting in more than 3,200 deaths in Canada each year. To manage these risks, in 2007 the federal government in collaboration with provinces and territories lowered the federal guideline from 800 to 200 becquerels per cubic metre. Our guideline of 200 becquerels per cubic metre is amongst the lowest radon action levels internationally, and aligns with the World Health Organization's recommended range of 100 to 300 becquerels per cubic metre.
All homes and buildings have some level of radon. It's not a question of “if” you have radon in your house; you do. The only question is how much, and the only way to know is to test. Health Canada recommends that all homeowners test their home and that if the levels are high, above our Canadian guideline, you take action to reduce.
The national radon program was launched in 2007 to support the implementation of the new federal guideline. Funding for this program is provided under the Government of Canada's clean air regulatory agenda. Our national radon program budget is $30.5 million over five years.
Since its creation, the program has had direct and measurable impacts on increasing public awareness, increasing radon testing in homes and public buildings, and reducing radon exposure. This has been accomplished through research to characterize the radon problem in Canada, as well as through measures to protect Canadians by increasing their awareness and giving them tools to take action on radon.
The national radon program includes important research to characterize radon risk in Canada. Two large-scale, cross-Canada residential surveys have been completed, using long-term radon test kits in over 17,000 homes. The surveys have provided us with a much better understanding of radon levels across the country. This data is used by Health Canada and our stakeholder partners to further define radon risk, to effectively target radon outreach, to raise awareness, and to promote action. For example, Public Health Ontario used this data in its radon burden of illness study. The Province of British Columbia used the data to inform its 2014 changes to their provincial building codes, which made radon reduction codes more stringent in radon-prone areas based on the results of our cross-Canada surveys. The CBC used the data to develop a special health investigative report and interactive radon map.
The national radon program also conducts research on radon mitigation, including evaluating the effectiveness of mitigation methods, conducting mitigation action follow-up studies, and analyzing the effects of energy retrofits on radon levels in buildings. For example, in partnership with the National Research Council, the national radon program conducted research on the efficacy of common radon mitigation systems in our beautiful Canadian climatic conditions. It is also working with the Toronto Atmospheric Fund to incorporate radon testing in a study they're doing that looks at community housing retrofits and the impacts on indoor air quality.
This work supports the development of national codes and standards on radon mitigation. The national radon program led changes to the 2010 national building codes. We are currently working on the development of two national mitigation standards, one for existing homes and one for new construction.
The program has developed an extensive outreach program to inform Canadians about the risk from radon and encourage action to reduce exposure. This outreach is conducted through multiple platforms targeting the general public, key stakeholder groups, as well as populations most at risk such as smokers and communities known to have high radon.
Many of the successes we've achieved so far under this program have been accomplished as a result of collaboration and partnership with a broad range of stakeholder partners. Our partners include provincial and municipal governments, non-governmental organizations, health professional organizations, the building industry, the real estate industry, and many more. By working with these stakeholders, the program is able to strengthen the credibility of the messages we're sending out and extend the reach and impact of our outreach efforts. We are very grateful for their ongoing engagement and support.
In November 2013 the New Brunswick Lung Association, the Ontario Lung Association, Summerhill Impact, and Health Canada launched the very first national radon action month. This annual national campaign is promoted through outreach events, website content, social media, public service announcements, and media exposure. It raises awareness about radon and encourages Canadians to take action. In 2014 the campaign grew in the number of stakeholders and organizations that participate in raising awareness. It also included the release of a public service announcement with television personality Mike Holmes, who encouraged all Canadians to test their home for radon.
To give Canadians access to the tools to take action, extensive guidance documents have been developed on radon measurement and mitigation. Heath Canada also supported the development of a Canadian national radon proficiency program, which is a certification program designed to establish guidelines for training professionals in radon services. This program ensures that quality measurement and mitigation services are available to Canadians.
The Ontario College of Family Physicians as well as McMaster University, with the support of Health Canada, have developed an accredited continuing medical education course on radon. This course is designed to help health professionals—a key stakeholder group—answer patients' questions about the health risks of radon and the need to test their homes and reduce their families' exposure.
The national radon program also includes outreach targeted to at-risk populations. For example, Erica already mentioned the three-point home safety checklist that we've supported in partnership with CPCHE. As well, to reach smokers, we have a fact sheet entitled “Radon—Another Reason to Quit”. This is sent out to doctors' offices across Canada to be distributed to patients. Since the distribution of those fact sheets began, the requests from doctors offices have increased quite significantly. It began with about 5,000 fact sheets ordered a month, and we're up to about 30,000 fact sheets ordered a month and delivered across Canada.
In recognition of the significant health risk posed by radon, Health Canada's national radon program continues to undertake a range of activities to increase public awareness of the risk from radon and to provide Canadians with the tools they need to take action. We are pleased to conduct this work in collaboration with many partners across the country.
Thank you for your attention. I look forward to any questions the committee members might have.
View Wladyslaw Lizon Profile
Yes, very short, Mr. Chair, because we were talking about an awareness campaign. Speaking for my constituents, the majority of them have no idea that we have radon and no idea about statistics.
When I go to a doctor's office, I see brochures about doing the PSA test or about checking my heart. I've never seen a brochure about checking my home for radon. Do you have any comments on that?
Tom Kosatsky
View Tom Kosatsky Profile
Tom Kosatsky
2015-06-18 17:25
Both Health Canada and the BCCDC have encouraged doctors—those of us in British Columbia and Health Canada across the country—and have had awareness campaigns for physicians. We have issued pamphlets to physicians and have put it in the medical literature. Doctors can help with this, especially if their patients are smokers or live in high radon areas. They can do a lot to encourage people to do something to protect themselves from lung cancer. We could all do more, but we wouldn't need to do more if we'd build it out in the first place.
View Mark Adler Profile
View Mark Adler Profile
2015-06-02 17:14
I'm glad you mentioned advertising these programs, because we all know what the Liberal plan is. It is to take these benefits away from hard-working middle-class Canadians. Their idea is that the less people know about these benefits, the easier it will be to take these away from them. So let me ask you, how can the government make people aware of our family tax cut plan?
View Joe Oliver Profile
We can do that by an advertising program. We want to make sure that Canadians from coast to coast to coast are aware of the measures. The campaign will highlight key policies, such as the doubling of the children's fitness tax credit, the increase in the child care expense deduction, the new family tax cut, and the enhancement of the UCCB. It's important that Canadians are aware of these measures and that every family with children who stands to benefit should benefit right away.
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thanks, everyone, for being here. Welcome to Ottawa.
To begin, I want to get one quick question off the table for the benefit of all my colleagues.
We are studying infrastructure. One of the things we heard in testimony was that Infrastructure Canada is incapable of telling us what kind of conditionality is attached to receiving federal dollars, in the sense of, for example, job creation or in the sense of sustainability, whether it's for materials efficiency or energy efficiency. These conditions are not attached.
One of the conditions that is attached—and some of you may know where I'm going with this—is that the cities and the provinces that receive federal infrastructure money are forced to put up billboards advertising economic action plan slogans.
I'm just wondering, very quickly, Ms. Ballem and Mayor Vrbanovic, if it would be possible for you to deliver to this committee at your earliest convenience the number of economic action plan billboards you've been compelled to erect in your municipal jurisdictions, what they cost, and whether we can get a copy of the agreement that governs the relationship among, in the case of B.C., Vancouver, British Columbia, and the federal government, and in the case of Kitchener, the feds, Ontario, and Kitchener, so that we can get a better idea of why this is happening.
We can't get a definitive answer from the government, but access to information requests have revealed that it's just over $30 million now and that 9,860-odd signs have been erected across the country.
We don't understand why. Some members say they want to defend them at the door; I'm anxious to see that. I'm wondering if we can begin by just getting commitment on the part of both of you, both from Vancouver and from Kitchener, to get an answer to this as soon as possible.
Perhaps we could begin with Ms. Ballem.
Penny Ballem
View Penny Ballem Profile
Penny Ballem
2015-06-02 16:06
Certainly. I don't have those numbers with me today, but I'm happy to look at providing that information.
The agreements that we have are publicly available in the city. They can be requested under FOI. They're there for the public, so that wouldn't be an issue for us.
Berry Vrbanovic
View Berry Vrbanovic Profile
Berry Vrbanovic
2015-06-02 16:07
Mr. McGuinty, I would say that is certainly information that I can speak with our staff about gathering and making available to you.
I would say on that point in particular that, obviously, municipalities are always interested in maximizing the dollar value they can contribute to the projects at hand, but at the same time, I think there is value for all orders of government in having Canadians understand the investments being made and the rationale behind some of those investments. I think that understanding helps raise awareness about the infrastructure deficit and the importance of governments working together.
When I think back to when I first started as an elected official locally some 20 years ago, infrastructure was not even on the radar of the average resident in our community. Today it's a very different story.
View Guy Caron Profile
I have one last question, and then I will let Mr. Rafferty take over.
Last time you appeared before us, I asked a question about the effectiveness of the $24-million advertising campaign to promote pipeline export projects toward the United States—more specifically, the Keystone pipeline.
Do you have more information about that campaign's effectiveness? A report was produced on the matter.
Kami Ramcharan
View Kami Ramcharan Profile
Kami Ramcharan
2015-06-02 15:52
With respect to the advertising campaign, we did have an initiative where we had two years' worth of funding. In 2013, $30 million was allocated for the two-year stakeholder engagement outreach campaign. It involved two components. International stakeholder engagement, under the Go with Canada banner, supported development, testing, and execution of advertising in select Washington, D.C., print and online media, and in metro transit stations between May 2013 and May 2014.
Advertising yielded more than 95,000 unique visits to the Go with Canada website, with 90% of the visits from intended U.S. audiences in Washington, D.C. Results from the advertising evaluation conducted in February 2014 indicated that the advertising activities exceeded the Government of Canada's advertising standards and benchmarks.
In terms of our outreach fund, funding for federal departments and agencies to deliver tailored information and engagement projects targeting key international and domestic stakeholder groups...and there was grants and contributions funding to support—
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mayor Hepner.
If I can go back to your agreement, and to you, Mayor Corrigan, do either of your cities have economic action plan billboards within your municipal territory?
Mayor Corrigan.
Linda Hepner
View Linda Hepner Profile
Linda Hepner
2015-05-26 16:08
Relative to the projects, yes. I believe we had them up for Bridgeview, for 96th Avenue.
Do we currently have them up for the biofuel? Yes, I'm being told we have them up for biofuel as well.
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
In terms of other funding that's been going on in your municipalities, perhaps this is to you, Mayor Hepner, particularly with respect to your public transit. Has there been advertising in your city, on your metro system, by the federal government with respect to economic action plan advertising slogans, for example?
Linda Hepner
View Linda Hepner Profile
Linda Hepner
2015-05-26 16:10
I don't control that. It would be through TransLink. I can make that inquiry of TransLink, certainly, as a board member.
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
Because we can't get a definitive answer from the government, we're trying to get a sense, municipality by municipality, of how much has been spent.
We do know now, Mayors, that the federal government is demanding, as a condition of receiving federal infrastructure money, that these billboards be erected in front of any project that it has a dollar in. We know that 9,850 signs have gone up and that it has cost just under $30 million. We also know that the government spent over $15,000 per car by putting up shrink-wrapped economic action plan advertising on GO Transit trains in downtown Toronto. We're very concerned about the kinds of expenditures that are going on here when we have so many important needs.
This brings me to my second theme, which is the Canada 150 infrastructure program announced by the Prime Minister last Friday. Can either of you tell me whether or not you qualify, and will you have the time to submit a bid for any of the money that's been announced or re-announced?
I just want to put a few things on the table for you. One of the top municipal infrastructure experts in the country at McGill described it, “It is an election stunt by the Prime Minister, and should be criticized as such”.
The problem is that it's managed by six regional development agencies now—broken up. There are different rules around the country and varying deadlines, as early as June 9, for example, in southern Ontario. Most of the southern Ontario municipalities are saying there is absolutely no way they will make any kind of deadline of that kind in making submissions. There are different projects that qualify. Western Canada is different from Quebec. Quebec is different from Atlantic Canada.
This really appears to have been cobbled together, rushed out, and poorly thought out in advance of the next election. It really smacks of timing, to allow different folks to announce projects in advance of the October 19 deadline.
Can you give us a sense—if you know anything about this project—of your thinking about this new fund that was rushed out last Friday, without any rhyme or reason, by the Prime Minister?
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