PITTSBURGH - Our area and elsewhere in Pennsylvania see an above-average level of radon exposure. Radon is a cancer-causing gas that's not required to be tested for where your child spends a quarter of their day - their classroom.
"On average, children spend about 1,000 hours in a school building," said Women for a Healthy Environment Executive Director Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis. "There are a lot of schools that have opted out of it and as a result may have high levels of radon in their buildings and may be unaware."
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It's a test your school district may skip, and it could hurt your child. Pennsylvania schools aren't required to test for radon.
"I would think that they should, but I don't know that they do," said West Deer mother Pam Rakowski.
States like New York, West Virginia and New Jersey have laws requiring radon testing in schools. While PA has no state law, some school districts in our area have started testing as a precaution. Kiski Area School District tested for radon in 2018. It is located in Westmoreland County, an area that typically sees high radon reading levels according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
A list of schools participating in our 1,000 Hours a Year Initiative who tested for radon:
- North Hills School District (Allegheny County)
- Pine-Richland School District (Allegheny County)
- Riverview School District (Allegheny County)
- West Mifflin School District (Allegheny County)
- Wilkinsburg School District (Allegheny County)
- Indiana Area School District (Indiana County)
- Bethlehem-Center School District (Washington County)
- Kiski Area School District (Westmoreland County)
- Penn-Trafford School District (Westmoreland County)
- Southmoreland School District (Westmoreland County)
"On average, out of the two private buildings and nine school districts that we worked with for Radon testing, it cost on average $962 per building to test," said Naccarati-Chapkis. "We know that this is within means and that school districts should be setting aside funding to do this on a regular basis."
Naccarati-Chapkis said a big concern school districts have, is mitigation. But experts say you can reduce your exposure to radon by making changes to a building's ventilation system.
Radon is naturally occurring radioactive gas, and it builds up in structures. It's the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, exposure to radon could be even more harmful because children have a faster breathing rate than adults.
"An elementary building sitting next door to a middle school building, one building could have a high level of radon and the other, not, just based on geography," said Naccarati-Chapkis. "The most preventative way is to test; it's an easy way to know and understand the levels of radon."
Democrat state Rep. Tim Briggs introduced a bill that would require radon testing in school buildings every five years.
"There is a lot of older schools and a lot of schools that I think are nervous about learning that they may need to mitigate some circumstances and fortunately the mitigation can be very reasonable," said Briggs.
He adds school districts need to see beyond just the dollar signs.
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"There is a cost to it, but you have to put things in priority, is saving a few dollars worth putting our children at risk, I tend not to think so," said Briggs.
Parents agree this is one test that districts should not be skipping.
"You pay enough in school property taxes. I am sure they can find a couple of dollars in the budget for that," said Dustin Regec, of Oakland.
Now if you want to find out if your district completed radon testing, you must call your school and ask. There is no database to check.
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