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 schools may be the second largest contributor to a child's radon exposure (or to teachers or staff), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) 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 USEPA 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 USEPA 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 USEPA 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.

For more information on testing procedures for schools, see the USEPA guide on Radon Measurement in Schools, Revised Edition.  For more detail about the 1991 school survey, call the radon hotline at 800-RADON-GAS (800-723-6642) or contact your local health department and request a copy of the Indoor Radon In Michigan: School Survey Summary.

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.

Additional helpful resources include: