Radon gas – it’s odorless, colorless, and the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. This invisible poison rises from the ground beneath our feet, a result of decaying radioactive radium in the rock beds and soil. It then enters buildings through cracks in the foundations, potentially accumulating to dangerous levels if left unmonitored. Due to our unique geology, Pennsylvania has the third-highest radon levels in the nation, putting our residents at a higher risk of exposure. In fact, 73% of our counties are labeled as Zone 1 risk areas by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Graphic from CT Radon showing how radon gas can seep into well water and enter homes through the basement.
Map of radon zones in Pennsylvania from the Environmental Protection Agency. The red counties fall into Zone 1, or areas with the greatest potential for high radon levels.
There may be little awareness surrounding this natural phenomenon, but its impacts are anything but small. Radon causes cancer by damaging lung cells when inhaled. The EPA actionable level for radon gas is 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) of air, but there is no safe level of exposure to this environmental health hazard, especially over a long period of time. If you know someone who developed lung cancer without having a smoking habit, or without being regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, there’s a notable chance that radon was the culprit. Children are thought to be particularly susceptible to radon exposure due to their growing bodies and developing lungs. A child exposed to radon is twice as likely to develop lung cancer as an adult with the same exposure.
This January, which is National Radon Action Month, we’re highlighting the dangers of radon gas and what our organization is doing to combat this threat – keep reading, because we need your help! Currently in Pennsylvania, there are protections against radon for prospective homeowners, with radon levels disclosed before purchase, but none exist for schools or other public buildings. At WHE, this is of great concern for us since we know that children and educators spend over 1,000 hours a year in the classroom. That’s why we created the 1000 Hours Program, which provides grants to schools, daycares, and early learning centers in Allegheny County for free lead and radon testing. Our Healthy Schools Coordinator, Shannon Meyers, describes the goal of this program as ensuring a safe and healthy learning environment by fighting health hazards that can severely impact child development. So far, we’ve tested over 20 public school districts and more than 70 school buildings, and Shannon hopes that one day, we’ll have tested every school in the county.
In the meantime, we’re taking a step further by pushing for statewide change. The Radon in Schools Workgroup is a collaboration between WHE, the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (AARST), the American Lung Association, Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), Rn Free, and more. Together, we are advocating to make radon testing mandatory in public schools. All test results would be public, and if a test revealed actionable levels of radon gas, the school district would notify its residents, and the state would provide support for mandatory remediation. Remediation usually looks like installing a ventilation system beneath the building or on its exterior. We also recommend a requirement for any new school construction to be built with radon-resistant technologies, to stop the threat before it can even materialize. Nate Burden, a radon specialist from AARST, says that taking this proactive measure is about 200-300 times lower in cost than remediation.
Our logo for the Radon in Schools Workgroup.
An active soil depressurization and fan system, which will improve air flow and prevent the build-up of radon gas.
We have already begun conversations with legislators, and on January 25th, we’ll be headed to Harrisburg for a lobbying day! We invite you to join us as we hold a press conference, table in the East Wing Rotunda, and meet with a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Follow us on social media to stay updated! And if you can’t make it to the capitol, don’t worry. You can also support WHE from the comfort of your home! Send an email to or call your representative, using our helpful templates linked below, to show that PA citizens are serious about radon in schools. Successful legislation has already been passed in a number of states, including Illinois, Iowa, Rhode Island, Ohio, Connecticut, and Florida. For the sake of our beloved children and valued educators, we hope to see Pennsylvania be next.
The Pennsylvania State Capitol Building in Harrisburg PA.
Written by Lauren Posey, Intern at Women for a Healthy Environment.
Radon in Schools Call Campaign Template: https://ujoin.co/campaigns/1935/actions/public?action_id=1961
Radon in Schools Email Campaign Template: https://ujoin.co/campaigns/1935/actions/public?action_id=1997
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