Is there radon in your child’s school? What parents need to know

Back-to-school is in full swing. For parents, it means equipping children with the lessons and tools they need to stay safe. But there is one hidden danger that many parents are unaware of- radon, a colorless, odorless and radioactive gas.

Recently, Portland Public Schools have been attracting national media with a report that officials found alarmingly high radon levels in more than 100 of its classrooms. This case is unfortunately too common. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 70,000 schoolrooms in use today have high short-term radon levels. Despite these alarming facts, only about 20 percent of schools nationwide have done some form of testing for the deadly gas.

So what exactly is radon, and how can parents protect their children against it?

Radon is an invisible, cancer-causing radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water that seeps into the air. The EPA estimates approximately 21,000 people in the United States die each year from lung cancer caused by radon exposure. Additionally, the American Cancer Society recently issued research that indicates an increased risk for blood cancers in women resulting from radon exposure.

Regardless of the risks, radon is widely misunderstood in the U.S., meaning there are few radon testing regulations in place within public schools. The EPA recommends that radon should not reach a level above 4 pCi/L (picoCuries per liter), but through a nationwide survey, it found that nearly one in five schools has at least one classroom with levels above this threshold.

What can you do to understand if this problem exists in your child's school? You can discuss radon testing with school officials and investigate what processes are in place for long-term radon monitoring. While many schools find short-term testing sufficient, the EPA recommends long term testing. Radon levels can fluctuate from day-to-day, month-to-month, and season-to-season, making long-term testing the only way to ensure that the average radon level reading is accurate.

It is also important to consider where the testing device is placed in the school. Radon levels often vary greatly from room to room in the same building, so be sure that a device is located within every classroom, preferably those frequently used and on the ground floor.

Schools are not the only place radon exposure presents a danger. In addition to speaking with school officials, be sure to test your own home using the above guidelines, preferably with a long-term testing device. You can also inform family, friends and other parents of the dangers of radon in order to have them monitor their spaces as well. Whether it's projects after school, study groups or sleepovers, children frequently spend time at other homes and it is important to know they're safe.

At school or at home, it is a child's right to breath clean air. To keep your family safe, visit to educate yourself on the dangers of radon, and take the necessary precautions to ensure long-term testing both in your child's school and at home.

Oyvind Birkenes is the CEO of Airthings, a Norway-based tech company that develops and manufactures products to easily monitor and identify radon levels in indoor air. The company is led by a team of experienced scientists, engineers and technology professionals who share a common goal: to educate people about the prevalence of radon and develop accessible technology solutions to help them safeguard their homes and keep themselves and their families healthy.

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