Radon Testing In Wisconsin Schools
Wisconsin’s schools do everything possible to keep our children safe. Security is excellent—in most schools, in fact, you cannot even get into the school building during school hours without first going through the school office. Our schools have routine fire drills, police officers come to talk to the kids about safety issues, and only non-toxic cleaning and maintenance products are used.
And, yet, a dangerous visitor still manages to sneak into our schools—right into the very classrooms our kids are in. No one even notices, though. Unlike an armed intruder, this threat is invisible. You can’t see it, you can’t hear it coming, you can’t even smell it. Its name? Radon.
As more communities across southeast Wisconsin become aware of the elevated radon levels in much of our area, there has been increasing demand for radon tests of school buildings. The demand has been coming from parents, teachers and even students in some cases.
How Serious Is The Risk Of High Radon Levels In Milwaukee Area Schools?
Schools face the same risk of radon infiltration as homes do. And, unfortunately, homes throughout southeast Wisconsin, in particular the areas of Waukesha, Dodge and Washington counties, are known to have radon levels well above the average national indoor level for radon.
While the national average indoor radon level is 1.3 pCi/L, statistics for testing done in Waukesha County show the average indoor radon level is 6.2. pCi/L, which is well above the actionable level of 4 pCi/L identified by the EPA. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services, 65% of homes in the 53029 zip code (which includes Hartland and areas of Delafield) registered above 4 pCi/L, with 32% of them testing out at 10 pCi/L or higher. Astonishingly, the highest reading was 180 pCi/L!
So, obviously, you can see the concern over what sort of radon levels our schools may have. Particularly if you are in any of the three counties mentioned above and have children in school.
Is Radon Testing of Schools Required?
No. There is no federal law requiring that schools be tested for radon, although many school districts across the country, including in Wisconsin, have had their schools tested for radon due to growing concerns in their communities.
Where does the EPA stand on this? Since 1993, they’ve recommended that schools be tested every 5 years, or if major changes have been made to the building or its HVAC systems. Additionally, the EPA recommends taking action in schools if a radon test shows levels higher than 2 pCi/L—a lower level than the 4 pCi/L level they have for homes.
Three Things To Consider With Radon Testing Of Schools
1. One of the biggest concerns with conducting radon tests in schools is the fact that students are coming and going from the building throughout the day. There are recess breaks, gym classes that require students to exit the building, late arrivals to and early departures from school. In short, the doors to the school are opening and closing all day. In many instances, windows are also being opened when the weather is nice. Allowing air to circulate through the building gives an inaccurate picture of radon levels. As much as possible, air in the building should be undisturbed.
The problem with all this coming and going during a radon test is that it affects the results. You want to minimize how often doors are opened, and you definitely don’t want any windows open. For this reason, we recommend any radon testing of schools be done during a time when school isn’t in session (over a break period or during the summer).
2. Another thing to consider is that the EPA’s guideline for measuring radon levels in schools advises to take initial measurements with a short-term test in all frequently occupied rooms which are in contact with the ground. The idea is to get a quick indication of whether there are high radon levels in the building or not. These tests should all be conducted at the same time, ideally after a weekend during the colder months of the year. If radon levels are shown to exceed 4 pCi/L, they recommend a 90-day or longer test be done to get a better picture of radon levels.
3. Lastly, schools looking into hiring a company for radon testing should not only check references, they should also look at the radon testing monitors placed in the school. These devices should be sent to an authorized testing laboratory every year to be recalibrated. When this is done, a sticker indicating the date of the recalibration and the name of the testing lab is put on the back of the device. If you see testing devices without any indication of having been tested, there’s a good chance the device has not been calibrated for some time and, consequently, any test results they produce are worthless.