Test Your School. Protect Your Health.
A known human carcinogen, radon is one of the most hazardous indoor pollutants. It is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, causing almost 21,000 deaths a year. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that emanates from rock and soil and can enter school facilities through cracks and openings in building foundations. A nationwide survey of radon levels in schools estimates that nearly one in five has at least one schoolroom with a short-term radon level above the action level of 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) — the level at which EPA recommends that schools take action to reduce the level. The only way to determine if your school building has elevated radon levels is to test for it. Testing is simple and unobtrusive and every school should have a plan to manage radon. Winter is a good time to test for radon because cold weather and the heating season can elevate radon levels in a school. It is also easier to maintain proper testing conditions in the winter because doors and windows are closed except for normal entry and exit, which helps in determining the maximum radon level.
Taking Action: Addressing Radon in Your School
- Understand the problem
You can’t see, smell or taste radon: The only way to know if radon levels are high is to run tests. Elevated levels of radon can occur anywhere, though radon concentrations may be higher in certain areas of the country. Testing each room within the school is important as radon levels can vary within a building. Speak with your state radon office to learn if any schools have been previously tested and, if so, with what results or what actions taken. The state radon program manager can provide you with information and technical assistance to develop an action plan for radon education, testing and followup action, as well as encouraging a discussion of radon with stakeholders to ensure that all involved understand this important issue.
- An overview of possible action steps
EPA recommends that all schools be tested for radon and retested after any renovations or changes to the building’s HVAC systems. Consider the following:
- If short-term testing is chosen, conduct testing on school days only (not holidays, vacations or weekends) in cold-weather months, using reliable short-term devices.
- Test all frequently occupied rooms, including rooms with ground contact and rooms immediately above unoccupied spaces that are in contact with the ground, such as crawlspaces and tunnels.
- Conduct followup testing in all frequently occupied rooms that test at or above 4 pCi/L.
- Take corrective measures in frequently occupied rooms that retest at or above 4 pCi/L following EPA guidelines described in Managing Radon in Schools.
- Re-test after having taken corrective measures to reduce radon levels.
- Learn from radon experts Josh Miller and Josh Kerber of the Minnesota Department of Health about strategies for addressing radon control in school environments. Check out the archived 2012 webinar.
- Contact your state’s radon program for specific guidance and requirements — http://www.epa.gov/radon/whereyoulive.html.
Help spread the message and raise awareness about the importance of radon risk reduction. The EPA has free online resources that can help you address this important public health issue at www.epa.gov/radon and at www.sosradon.org.