Radon Problems at School or Work

Elevated radon levels can occur in any indoor environment, and exposure in the school or workplace can increase one's risk of developing lung cancer. However, because many people spend much of their time at home, the home is likely to be the most significant source of radon exposure, and all homes should be tested. When elevated radon levels are found, they should be reduced.

 

Since school may be the second largest contributor to a child's radon exposure (or to teachers or staff), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that all schools be tested and that action be taken to reduce elevated radon levels.

 

Surveys have shown that radon levels can vary significantly from room to room within a school, so EPA protocols call for testing in all frequently occupied rooms that are at basement or first floor level (or are otherwise in contact with the ground). If a room is found to have a level greater than the EPA guideline of 4 picocuries per liter (4 pCi/l), additional testing should be done to confirm the problem. If elevated levels are verified, action should be taken to reduce the radon level.

 

In 1991 the Michigan Indoor Radon Program conducted a survey of radon in Michigan's public schools. More than 13,000 measurement devices were placed in 388 randomly selected school buildings across the state. The survey resulted in nearly 11,600 statistically valid results in 373 buildings in 80 counties. Approximately 2.3 percent of the samples exceeded the EPA guideline of 4 pCi/l, and these elevated levels were distributed among more than 25 percent of the buildings and in over 61 percent of the counties.

 

The survey was intended to determine the overall potential for radon problems in schools, and it did confirm that elevated radon levels could occur in schools. As is the case with homes, however, the only way to know whether a building has elevated radon levels is to test that building. Differing soils and geology, construction factors, and occupancy patterns can result in significantly different radon levels from room to room and from building to building, even in the same general locale. All buildings should be tested.

 

More information on testing procedures can be found in Radon Measurement in Schools, Revised Edition, and more detail about the school survey can be found in Indoor Radon In Michigan: School Survey Summary (see below).

 

A non-school workplace would be the second largest contributor for much of the adult population, and as such, it would be a good idea to test for radon and reduce elevated levels in the indoor work environment. Since separate measurement protocols have not yet been developed for commercial settings or other large buildings, the procedures outlined in Radon Measurement in Schools, Revised Edition should be used for large buildings, and the home testing protocols outlined in A Citizen's Guide to Radon should be used for small, house-like settings.

 

For a copy of Indoor Radon In Michigan: School Survey Summary, or a copy of any of the following publications, contact your local health department, or the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Indoor Radon Program at 800-RADON GAS/800-723-6642 or 517-335-8037. 

  • Radon in Schools - Second Edition (pamphlet) 
  • Radon Measurement In Schools (Revised Edition)
  • Radon Prevention in the Design and Construction of Schools and Other Large Buildings 
  • Reducing Radon in Schools: A Team Approach