By: Kristin Armstrong
Many of us have heard about the dangers of indoor radon in homes, but what about the risks of radon gas in schools? To combat radon’s harmful effects on school-aged children and to raise public awareness of the issue, the Utah Department of Health has provided funding to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to test schools across the state for elevated levels of radon.
Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, and the leading cause among non-smokers. It is a toxic, radioactive gas that you cannot see, touch, hear, or smell. It comes from uranium in the soil and seeps into homes and schools through cracks in the foundation and other openings.
When I started working at DEQ this past October, I had very little idea of what radon actually was and just how harmful it could be. Since starting with the Radon Program, I have tested eleven schools across four Utah counties: Tooele, Duchesne, Uintah and Salt Lake. The tested schools have ranged from elementary to high school. I conduct the tests by placing a small test packet filled with activated charcoal in each classroom and leaving it for 36-96 hours, giving time for the radon to be absorbed by the charcoal for testing. Then I return to the schools to collect the tests, package them up, and send them off to the lab to be tested for radon levels. I’m very happy to report that so far all of the schools we have tested have come in below the EPA acceptable level of indoor radon, which is 4.0 pCi/L.
What can schools do if they discover they do have high levels of radon? While the effects of radon are scary, there is a fairly simple solution! Schools can hire a certified radon mitigator to install a system to reduce the levels of radon well below 4.0 pCi/L. DEQ provides a list of mitigators from all over the state who can install a radon-mitigation system by drilling about a five-inch hole in the foundation of the building and installing a pipe-and-fan system that will redirect the radon outside of the building into the outside air.
Davis County has taken the initiative to not only test its schools but also build new schools using RRNC, or Radon Resistant New Construction. This process involves building a radon mitigation system during the initial construction of the school. Doing this not only saves money for the school, as it is cheaper to have the mitigation built in at the time of construction than to add it in at a later time, but it also saves kids from being exposed to any radon at all.
Testing schools for radon gas helps to not only protect our children and teachers from exposure and its harmful effects, but it also helps to raise public awareness about radon. Teachers at nearly every school that I have tested have asked me more about radon, and it reminded many of them about the need to test their own homes. Some teachers also use it as a learning opportunity with their students, most of whom have never heard of radon before.
Radon gas is a serious threat to our public health, and I am happy to be able to help DEQ be part of the solution.
Governor Gary Herbert has declared Jan. 16-20 Radon Action Week. Testing your home for radon is easy and could save a life! Visit our website to order a $9 test kit. If your test shows elevated radon levels, check out our list of certified mitigator professionals. Concerned about the possibility of radon at your children’s school? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has free guidance materials available to schools.
I have been working with the Department of Environmental Quality in the Indoor Radon Program since October 2016. I graduated from the University of Utah in May of 2016 with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. I love living in the beautiful state of Utah and taking advantage of its many outdoor recreations. In my spare time, I love to snowboard, hike, cook, and travel.