Air Quality Awareness Month: Radon in the Classroom

The month of March is all about air quality awareness here at Healthy Schools Pennsylvania. Air quality in schools is often something that is overlooked, but many children are affected by the quality of the air in classrooms, especially as asthma rates are on the rise. Classrooms tend to have poor indoor air quality because they do not have proper ventilation or intake of outdoor air, often a result of attempts to lessen heating or cooling costs.

A big factor impacting air quality within the classroom is Radon. Radon is an invisible, odorless, tasteless dangerous gas that occurs naturally in the ground from the breakdown of uranium. Radon can seep into buildings through cracks in the foundation, and then it can build up over time. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that radon is responsible for about 20,000 deaths a year. The gas is a known carcinogen—it is the second leading cause of lung cancer, just behind smoking. Studies have shown that thousands of classrooms across the country have radon levels that are more than twice the EPA’s action level, which is 4 pico curies per liter. The EPA estimates that more than 70,000 classrooms have radon levels at the action level. Experts say children being exposed to anything above 4 p/CiL is the equivalent of them smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day.

Most classrooms are never tested for radon. So far, only 5 states have required testing in schools: Rhode Island, Connecticut, Virginia, Florida and Colorado. However, even in these states, many school districts have never done any testing. Furthermore, none of these laws require that the states actually do anything to lessen or fix the radon levels. The EPA has recommended many clear ways to alleviate high levels of radon in school buildings, but these efforts can be costly which unfortunately deters many schools from ever conducting the tests.

Children breathe in higher amounts of air than adults. Radon poses a very real threat to children of developing lung cancer, especially considering the amount of time they spend at school.

Encourage administrators at your children’s school to test for Radon in order to maintain a green and healthy learning environment. Contact Healthy Schools PA for more information, call 412-404-2872 or e-mail

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Category:Air Quality