Radon in Schools
On this page:
- Radon Could Be a Serious Threat to Your School
- Radon Gas Decays into Radioactive Particles that Can Get Trapped in Your Lungs when You Breathe
- Testing and Mitigation Standards for Schools
- Technical Webinars
Radon Could Be a Serious Threat to Your School
Chances are you've already heard of radon - a radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer.
But what you might not have heard is that high levels have been found in a number of schools across the country. Therefore, it is important that students, teachers and parents be aware that a potential problem could exist in their school.
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. EPA estimates that more than 70,000 schoolrooms in use today have high short-term radon levels.
The only way to determine if a problem exists is to test for it. Having your school tested for radon is something you may want to discuss with your school officials. Because as real as the threat of radon is, the good news is that the problem can be solved.
"EPA's national survey of schools produced some alarming results about concentrations in our children's classrooms. Public awareness must be raised about the hazards of radon to hasten efforts to reduce the danger. All schools must be tested to determine if there is a problem, and schools must inform parents of the results. We cannot ignore this problem." Kathryn Whitfill, National PTA President.
The EPA ranks indoor radon among the most serious environmental health problems facing us today. After smoking, it is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States causing an estimated twenty one thousand (21,000) lung cancer deaths a year.
Radon is a naturally occurring gas that seeps into buildings from the surrounding soil. In some cases, well water may be a source of radon.
You can't see, taste, or smell radon. In fact, the only way to discover if high levels of radon are present is through testing.
"All students have the right to expect a safe and healthy environment. Teachers and other school employees should encourage their schools to conduct radon tests and undertake all necessary corrective actions. The health of our children demands no less." Keith Geiger, NEA President.
Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe.
As these particles break down, they release small bursts of energy. This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime. An individual's risk of getting lung cancer from radon depends mostly on three factors: the level of radon, the duration of exposure and their smoking habits.
EPA recommends that all schools nationwide be tested for radon. To date, approximately 20% of the schools nationwide have done some testing. Some states have tested all their public schools.
How are schools tested for radon?
Testing for radon is simple and relatively inexpensive. EPA has published guidance that is available free to schools throughout the country.
- Call your State Radon Office for more information.
The basic elements of testing are:
- Test all frequently used rooms on and below the ground level;
- Conduct tests in the cooler months of the year; and,
- Follow the testing strategy below.
Testing and Mitigation Standards for Schools
Copies of the following Radon Standards of Practice may be viewed, purchased or printed from Association of Radon Scientist and Technologists Standards webpage.
Radon Mitigation Standards for Schools and Large Buildings (ANSI/AARST RMS-LB 2018)
This standard of practice specifies minimum requirements and general guidance for mitigation of radon and soil gas in existing schools and large buildings. The techniques addressed in this standard provide whole-building consideration yet also apply to portions of a building or individual occupied space. Improvements to RMS-LB 2018 include harmonized provisions with ANSI/AARST standards RMS-MF (multifamily), SGM-SF (existing homes) and CC-1000 (new construction). NOTE: NRPP compliance with this standard will remain acceptable until Sept.1, 2021, when compliance with the revised version below goes into effect.
Protocol for Conducting Measurements of Radon and Radon Decay Products In Schools and Large Buildings (ANSI/AARST MALB 2014 WITH 1/2021 Revisions)
This standard of practice specifies procedures and minimum requirements when measuring radon concentrations in shared structures, or portions of shared structures, used for residential, non-residential or mixed-use purposes to determine if radon mitigation is necessary to protect current and future occupants. 1-21 revisions to this publication include harmonization of most provisions to read the same across both ANSI/AARST MAMF and ANSI/AARST MALB.
What happens if your school fails the test?
Every home should also take this test. Fortunately, even if your school does fail the radon test, the problem can be corrected. Proven techniques are available that will lower radon levels and lower risks of lung cancer from radon exposure.
School is not the only place that students and teachers can be exposed to radon.
Since children spend more time at home, high radon levels there can pose a much greater threat to their health.
Once again, testing is simple and inexpensive. After all, radon is one health problem nobody should have to live with - at home or at school.
For more information, call one of the radon hotlines or contact your state radon coordinator.
The American Lung Association
Recommends testing homes and schools for radon.
U.S. Surgeon General Health Advisory
"Indoor radon gas is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the country. It's important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques." January 2005
Webinar: Radon in Schools: What You Need to Know to Properly Manage Radon in Your School -Recorded on March 22, 2018
Technical Webinar: Reducing Radon in Schools -July 18, 2012
Effective radon control is a critical component of any comprehensive indoor air quality (IAQ) management program, learn how to manage radon in your school.
- Find materials from the IAQ Tools for Schools webinar page.