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. Radon is present in outdoor air, and radon levels can build up inside people’s homes.
Unless you test for it, there is no way of knowing if radon is present in a building.
Health Effects of Radon Exposure
Everyone is exposed to some radon in indoor and outdoor air. Breathing air with radon increases a person’s risk of getting lung cancer. A person’s lung cancer risk due to radon depends on the level of radon in the air they breathe, how long they are exposed, and whether or not they are a smoker.
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 be tested for radon. You can also be exposed to radon at home. Learn more about radon in your home
Radon Problems in Schools
A nationwide survey of radon levels in schools estimates that nearly one in five has at least one schoolroom with a radon level above the EPA action level of 4.0 pCi/L (picoCuries per liter). The EPA estimates that more than 70,000 schoolrooms in use today have high radon levels.
Many factors contribute to radon entering a school building. Schools in nearby areas can have significantly different radon levels from one another. Here are some reasons 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 14% 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.