Many Schools do not Test for Radon, Risking Safety of Students, Teachers, and Staff
Many children in southwestern Pennsylvania could be at risk of radon exposure. Most schools in the area do not test for the colorless and odorless radioactive gas even though the area has one of the largest concentrations of radon in the country. Around 1.7 million children in school as well as staff and teachers spend around 1,000 hours per year in schools. Five bills have been introduced in the last 10 years requiring that schools test for radon, which have all failed. Radon is dangerous because decades after radon exposure, people can end up with lung cancer.
According to the American lung Association, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. It can enter homes through cracks in walls, foundations, and other openings. There are no immediate symptoms to radon exposure, so it is impossible to know when it is present. The only way to detect radon is to test for it. Pennsylvania has the third highest levels of radon in the country. It causes 1,400 lung cancer deaths per year in the state and 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the country. Children are at a higher risk of lung cancer because their changing bodies and rapid breathing rates lead to higher doses of radiation compared to an adult exposed to the same levels of radon. Radon also has a synergistic relationship with tobacco smoke, so children exposed to radon and tobacco are 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer.
A survey found that 70 percent of schools in southwestern Pennsylvania have not tested for radon in the past five years. Many of the schools that do not test are in areas where there are large levels of radon. There are also no records of testing in school districts that were surveyed. The Department of Education requires certain safety issues to be reported, but radon is not one of the issues required. School districts claim that they do not have the funding to perform radon tests, but many groups that have grants for this specific issue have had a hard time finding schools to accept money for the testing.
Many school districts, including Upper St. Clair and Pittsburgh Public Schools had no records of testing for radon. Only 19 of the 61 districts surveyed tested for radon in the last five years and many of the 19 took steps to mitigate dangerous levels, which is 4.0 picocuries per liter of air. Other school districts where some homes have measured 8.4 picocuries per liter of air have not tested for radon as a safety measure. If you would like, you can check average radon levels per zip code in Pennsylvania at this website.
Even when there are high levels in a building in a specific area, it might not mean that there are high levels in the same neighborhood. This is why testing is so important. An investment in radon testing for all school districts is a small cost that could help ensure the safety and well being of children in the area. Lung cancer risk is higher with long term exposure to the gas, so the longer school districts wait to test for radon, the higher the risk is for kids going to school every day. Some states like West Virginia require radon testing, so something like this could be possible for Pennsylvania.
Schools need to be proactive to ensure the health of their students. Some schools have done this by testing and addressing areas in buildings that have high levels of radon while others tested and installed mitigation systems and entered results to the district website. Grants are available for radon testing but less than two dozen school districts applied for it.
Radon is a much larger problem for Pennsylvania than people might realize. It is in the highest class of known carcinogens, which means it is known as a substance that can cause cancer. The EPA recommends that remediation is done if levels are above 4.0 picocuries per liter of air, but it is better if remediation occurs if levels reach more than 2.0 picocuries per liter of air. The geology of Pennsylvania makes it more likely for high radon exposure than other states. Around 98.5 percent of the counties in Pennsylvania are within the two highest radon risk levels. Around 73 percent are in the top risk designation. The average level of radon is around 4.0 picocuries per liter of air. When people live in homes with radon at these levels, people are five times more likely to develop lung cancer. The EPA recommends that homes be tested for radon every two years.
Were you exposed to radon or another toxic substance that led to a cancer diagnosis? Contact us today to see if you could be entitled to compensation. Call 412-471-3980 or fill out our contact form to speak to a member of our team.
Deb Erdley and Megan Tomasic, “Radon The Invisible Danger” TribLive (October 9, 2022). [Link]