For August, the Department of Health asked for schools to learn about radon. Radon is the single largest source of radiation for almost everyone in Washington. Here are some questions and answers to help you get started.
What is radon? How would it get into our school? How can we tell if we have it?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is invisible, odorless, and tasteless. It comes from the radioactive decay of radium, an element found in most rocks and soils. Radon can enter a building from the ground underneath it, and concentrate to tens or even hundreds of times the level in outdoor air.
The only way to know if you have elevated levels of radon is to test. Easy-to-use, inexpensive test kits are available online, and from many home improvement and hardware stores. You can also hire a professional radon tester. Find lists of professionals from the National Environmental Health Association and the National Radon Safety Board.
My school is considering being tested for radon – what do we need to know?
The condition of the indoor environment in schools has a direct impact on health and performance outcomes for students and staff. Schools are not required to perform radon testing, but it is recommended for all homes and schools by the DOH and the EPA. While elevated radon levels are a concern and schools need to reduce radon exposure, risk is from long-term exposure over years.
The EPA offers a webinar: What You Need to Know to Properly Manage Radon in Your School where you will learn:
- The facts about radon in schools – risk of radon, characteristics and prevalence – and why it’s necessary to test every school for radon.
- Effective and practical strategies for radon testing and control, including continuous radon monitoring (CRM).
- Standards of Practice that address all aspects of radon measurement and mitigation and provide key references for these techniques.
- Methods to increase your understanding of how radon management fits into an integrated school environmental health program.
- Best practices of a school district mentor that has identified radon problems and successfully managed them.
To put your school’s radon test results in perspective, outdoor air background levels of radon are about 0.4 pCi/L. Getting indoor levels below 2 pCi/L is difficult. The EPA recommends that steps should be taken to lower radon levels if they are 4 pCi/L or above.
The map of WA State is helpful in that it shows the variation of radon levels from Guarded, to Medium, to High all across our state. This live link of the map can be used to zoom in on your neighborhood.