Radon in Schools

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that has no color, smell, or taste. Radon comes from the decay of uranium, which is a radioactive element found naturally in the earth’s crust. Over billions of years, uranium decays into radium, and eventually, radon.

Unless you test for it, there is no way of knowing if radon is present in a builiding.

Health Effects of Radon Exposure

There are no known acute health effects connected with brief exposure to radon. However, over longer periods of time, breathing air with too much radon increases a person’s risk of lung cancer. The risk is increased even more for a smoker exposed to radon.

Because many people, particularly children, spend much of their time at home, the home is likely to be the most significant source of radon exposure. Parents are strongly encouraged to test their homes for radon and take action to lower elevated radon levels. Find out more about radon in your home.

For most school children and staff, the second largest contributor to their radon exposure is likely to be their school. As a result, the Health Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend that school buildings, as well as homes, be tested for radon.

The Radon Problem in Schools

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 EPA action level of 4 pCi/L (picoCuries per liter). The EPA estimates that more than 70,000 schoolrooms in use today have high short-term radon levels.

Many factors contribute to radon entering a school building. Schools in nearby areas can have significantly different radon levels from one another. The following factors determine why some schools have elevated radon levels and others do not:

  • Concentration of radon in the soil and permeability of the soil under the school
  • Structure and construction of the school building
  • Type, operation, and maintenance of the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system

Testing for Radon in Schools

Almost 12% of Vermont schools that have tested for radon since 2005 have radon levels above the EPA action level, with some as high as five times the action level. Testing is the only way to know what level of radon students and school personnel are exposed to.

The Health Department offers free school radon testing and technical assistance to schools with elevated levels of radon. For more information, call the Radon Program at 800-439-8550 or email radon@vermont.gov.

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