Students and teachers who spend hours per day in schools have increased potential of radon exposure in the classroom. According to the EPA “one in five schools has at least one room with a short-term radon level above the action level of 4 picocuries per liter,” the level at which EPA recommends that schools take radon reduction measures. This equates to “more than 70,000 schoolrooms in use today that have high short-term radon levels.”
Radon is a cancer-causing, odorless, and invisible gas. It is the #1 cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers and the #2 cause of lung cancer nationwide. The biggest threat from radon comes from long-term exposure over time. With students and teachers spending all day in school buildings for years on end, the threat of long-term radon exposure during school hours is an alarming health threat.
Radon in school buildings
Radon gas forms when uranium in the soil beneath a school building decays into harmful radioactive atoms that get caught in the respiratory tract when students and teachers breathe. Radon enters schools through cracks and openings in the building foundation as well as:
- Joints where the floor meets the wall.
- Floor openings for pipes, cables, and wires.
- Expansion joints in the floor.
- Hollow masonry walls at floor level.
Because the air pressure inside a building is slightly lower than the pressure in the soil, it acts like a vacuum and pulls the radon inside the building from the soil. Over time, this indoor radon exposure causes lung cancer.
Radon testing in school buildings
Measuring for radon in schools is more complex than a residence because of the factors that contribute to radon gas entering the building such as:
- Type of building construction.
- Type of HVAC system.
- Presence of basements, crawl spaces or utility tunnels.
- Presence of construction renovations or additions over the years.
The EPA recommends that all frequently occupied rooms and classrooms on and below the ground level be tested for radon. Radon levels can vary from room to room – even between neighboring classrooms.
School buildings typically have different ventilation conditions during the school day than evenings and weekends. The same holds true for summer months and school holidays. Heating and/or air conditioning may be reduced after school hours and during “non-school” days. This information is a factor to consider when measuring the potential radon exposure to students and teachers.
Unsafe levels of radon in schools
Radon is measured in picocuries per liter (pCi/L). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined radon measurements of 4 pCi/L or higher to be dangerous levels. This radon level is largely unsafe and is 10 times higher than the average level outdoors. In Canada radon is measured in becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3). Health Canada designates 200 Bq/m3 to be unsafe levels. Any radon exposure raises a person’s likelihood of developing cancer, but levels above 4 pCi/L or 200 Bq/m3 are particularly likely to lead to lung cancer.
The World Health Organization has stricter standards and recommends that anyone with a measurement of 2 pCi/L or 100 Bq/m3 should take action to lower the radon levels. Because of this high risk, it is best to attempt to reach the lowest levels possible. These lowest levels are achieved through mitigation systems, either active or passive, that work to move fresh air in and remove radon by pushing it out.
Commercial solutions from Radonova for school radon testing include bulk ordering discounts for radon testing companies and school districts.
Radon programs in schools
Part of an indoor air quality (IAQ) program in schools includes educating parents and staff about radon and encouraging people to test in their homes. Homes are the place where students and teachers spend most of their time with school buildings often being the second. The quickest short-term screening will measure radon for 48 to 96 hours to generate test results. For a more accurate short-term result, use a short-term alpha track detector for 10 to 90 days such as the Radonova Rapidos detector. Long-term tests provide the most accurate result – the longer you can measure, the more accurate your results will be. The Radonova Radtrak3 is the most accurate long-term radon detector on the market.
Fourteen US states currently require testing for radon in schools. These states include Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Many states require that measuring for radon in schools be completed by a certified Radon Measurement Specialist. If radon levels are too high, then radon mitigation should be completed by a certified Radon Mitigation Specialist.
Ask if your school has been tested for radon. If your school has not been tested, certified professional testing services or school personnel can test your school for radon. Contact your state’s radon program before doing any school testing as some states have restrictions on who may conduct the tests.
Radonova is the radon laboratory of choice for numerous government radon surveys, as well as other public and private sector large-scale measurement contracts around the world. A truly global laboratory, Radonova is active in over 50 countries and has performed millions of measurements.