Making schools safer for students and faculty is a topic that is being widely discussed as we enter 2022. However, very few of those discussions are focused on radon gas, a silent killer that is easily detectable but often left unaddressed.
To increase awareness of and reduce exposure to radon gas, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated January as National Radon Action Month. Presently, the EPA reports that radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers in the US, claiming 21,000 lives annually.
Radon is an invisible intruder
Unlike many of the other dangers that students and faculty face, radon can be present and active, causing health issues that eventually lead to lung cancer, without anyone knowing it is there. It is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that produces no immediate symptoms and occurs naturally from the decay of trace uranium present in certain types of rock and soils. .
As radon is released into the air in outdoor spaces, it quickly dissipates to levels that are not dangerous. However, when radon accumulates in indoor spaces, levels can quickly become deadly. In most cases, radon enters buildings like schools, homes, and offices through cracks or other holes in foundations. Once it finds an access point, it will continue to accumulate until mitigating efforts are employed.
The health impact caused by radon is due to the energetic subatomic particles that it emits as it decays. Once introduced to the human respiratory system, the particles cause damage to the cells that line the lungs. Over time the presence of radon leads to cancer in the lungs, symptoms may include persistent cough, wheezing, chest pain, and frequent infections like bronchitis and pneumonia.
Radon Gas monitoring is a critical action step
Because radon can be present in any location, it is essential that all schools employ effective radon detection and monitoring tools. Passive radon detectors, which samples air over a period of a few hours to a few weeks are the cheapest option, but they have been shown to provide readings that are far from reliable. In addition, they only give an average over a defined period of time, when studies have shown that a wide variety of factors can affect the levels of radon in the air over the seasons. For environments like schools, where the population changes dramatically during a 24-hour period, the best safeguard is a radon monitoring system that provides accurate readings regularly and consistently.
Ecosense’s EcoQube is an example of an intelligent radon detector that provides fast, accurate results in real-time. It uses a patented radon detection technology that provides 15 times higher sensitivity than industry standards require. The EcoQube also collects data over time, creating a record of radon levels that allow for a complete analysis of radon fluctuations. When readings show unacceptable levels of radon in the air, the EcoQube provides alerts both on the device and via push notifications through the EcoQubeapp.
“Ecosense’s patented ion chamber detectors match the accuracy of research grade instrumentation and provide 10-minute updates which enable the user to track the benefits of simple steps such as increasing ventilation,” explains Insoo Park, CEO of Ecosense. “If radon levels consistently measure near or over EPA action levels, the user can be confident that it is time to bring in a radon professional.”
Radon mitigation will dramatically reduce the danger
When it is determined that a school has elevated radon readings, steps can be taken to reduce its negative health impact. These include preventing the intrusion of radon or removing it once it has entered.
Sealing cracks and other holes in foundations is a fundamental step toward preventing radon intrusion. However, this is rarely viewed as a complete solution to the problem. Entry points can be many and widely scattered, especially in larger buildings like schools. Ensuring that all flaws in a foundation are addressed is a near impossible task. Another method known as “sub-slab depressurization” utilizes a system of piping and exhaust fans to force radon to the exterior of the building before it has the opportunity to enter and accumulate.
A radon mitigation specialist can help to determine the best course of action once it is determined that a school has unacceptable levels of radon. Their recommendations should be taken seriously and implemented quickly. Our schools face too many dangers from sources that cannot be addressed so easily. Removing the threat of radon should be a high priority.