Protecting children from radon in Indiana schools

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — A measure approved by the Indiana Senate would help public schools make sure their environments are safe from radon

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the extremely toxic radioactive gas causes lung cancer. The EPA also says you can’t see the gas, smell it or taste it.

Hamilton Southeastern Schools actively tracks the gas in its facilities. 

Bob Rice, who is the energy manager for Hamilton Southeastern Schools. said Friday, “It comes from the ground and it can infiltrate buildings. It’s the second-leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.”

Rice is in charge of testing all HSE schools for radon every five years. 

“Most of our schools are on slabs. But, the radon gas can still come in. Since we have brick walls, it can actually build up in our schools,” Rice said. “So, it’s one of those issues where we’re bringing in enough fresh air so we’re pumping the radon out and getting fresh clean air in so we’re not exposing our kids to radioactive elements.” 

Cumberland Elementary School was remodeled and tested a couple years ago. The cost to test that school was about $1,200. Rice said it costs more to test its high schools, Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern, which are larger than the elementaries. 

“We’ve never had a school reach over 4 picocuries, which is kind of the baseline,” Rice said. “Most of our are around 1.3, 1.8, which is the average of Indiana.” 

Under a bill from state Sen. Eric Bassler, the state’s Health Department every three years would have to give each public school district a “best practices” manual for indoor air-quality management and radon testing recommendations. 

“It will get radon on people’s radar screens,” said the Republican from Washington, Indiana. “So, they will be able to start being aware of it. They can then make a decision on how often they would test for it. I believe the EPA recommends a school test every five years.” 

The senator said less than roughly 5 percent of Indiana public schools have tested for radon in the last five to 10 years.

“If we ever got to the point where we were going to require schools to do that testing,” Bassler said, “I’d want to provide them with funding to help to the testing.” 

 Bassler’s bill was referred to the House on Wednesday for consideration.

Radon resources

Anyone with questions about radon or needing to help test for or get rid of it can calls these phone numbers provided by the EPA:

800-767-7236: Purchase radon test kits by phone. 

800-557-2366: Get live answers to radon questions. 

800-644-6999: Radon Fit-It Hotline has general information on fixing or reducing the radon level in your home.

800-426-4791: The Safe Drinking Water Hotline has general information on drinking water, radon in water, testing and treatment, and standards for radon drinking water. It’s operated under a contract with the EPA.

Indiana State Department of Health also has information on radon. 

An EPA interactive map shows the nation by county and their average radon readings.

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