Parents across the country will likely be shocked to find that their child may be sitting in a classroom every day that has high levels of a radioactive gas, and that their school has not tested for this gas despite warnings as early as 1993.
That is the reality of radon gas testing in most American schools.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found in a nationwide survey of schools, that one in five schools has at least one classroom with radon levels above the EPA’s radon action level, a level they recommend action be taken to protect children. The EPA believes that 70,000 classrooms across the country have high radon levels. If an average size class is 25 students, that is 1,750,000 kids exposed to deadly radon gas every day. The damage it could be doing to children’s health is as if each child smoked a half of a pack or more of cigarettes every day.
Radon is a radioactive gas that people cannot see, taste or smell. The natural decay of radioactive elements such as uranium and thorium in the earth creates radon gas. It can seep into buildings through cracks in the foundation, walls, floors or even where utilities enter. Radon is found in soil, water and some building material. While radon gas can be found at high levels inside buildings everywhere in the United States, the EPA has developed a radon map dividing the country into three zones based upon the predicted average of indoor radon.
There are no federal radon laws. Some states and jurisdictions have their own radon regulations, often for new construction or real estate transactions. Only the states of Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Virginia and Rhode Island require radon testing of schools.
You can find out what radon regulations exist in your area, if any, by this list compiled by the EPA.
Radon test kits are inexpensive, costing less than $25 at most home improvement stores. Buildings found to contain unsafe levels of radon can undergo mitigation by a radon specialist to make them safe. Yet schools seem reluctant to test for radon, citing costs of the testing when perhaps they fear the cost of mitigation or public outcry if there are high radon levels found.
In Connecticut where radon testing in schools is mandatory, 400 classrooms had high levels of radon and now the schools have fixed all of them with remediation techniques.
The TODAY show recently showed an investigative show about radon in our schools.
Forty school districts in Iowa, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania declined free radon testing offered by TODAY. TODAY did test a second grade classroom in Pennsylvania and found radon levels nearly double the EPA’s action level.
“EPA strives to reduce children's risks from radon exposure at home and in school,” the EPA told TODAY. While the most significant possible risks are at home, where kids and families spend most of their time, radon can be a concern at school as well. EPA strongly recommends that both homes and schools are tested for radon, and that action is taken when high levels are found.”
The EPA offers an online radon program for schools.
Concerned parents and residents can find radon resources in their area here.