Recent findings suggest that the vast majority of school districts in Minnesota are not testing their schools for Radon, which can have serious health effects. Just 53 of the total 331 school districts have tested for the dangerous substance since 2012. The EPA and the Minnesota Department of Health both recommend testing for radon on a regular basis. Radon has no color or odor, so it can only be detected through testing. It causes over 20,000 deaths each year from lung cancer.
So why is that Minnesota schools are not testing, despite those recommendations? The surprising thing is that while it is recommended, there is not requirement for schools to test for radon in Minnesota. The situation leaves staff and students at risk. They can spend up to 40 hours or more at school every week, which means that their exposure could be high. Radon is also especially dangerous for children, who are still developing.
Making matters worse is that a full 80 percent of Minnesota counties are considered radon “hot zones”. In the middle of these hot zones are untested schools and children at risk. There is now a movement among radon experts to not just get testing in schools, but also in private homes to keep Minnesotans safe.
A recent study shows that even among the districts who do perform testing, they do not follow those recommendations very well. 168 classrooms were found to have high radon levels. According to recommendations, the district should report findings above 4.0 picocuries per liter to the EPA. Along with this report, they should outline the plans they have to reduce that level. Of those 168 classrooms, only roughly half had any subsequent testing after the initial high reading. This means that there is a possibility that there are children being knowingly exposed to high levels of radon in their classrooms. The Minnesota Department of Health does not know for sure.
Health Department officials have so far refused to release the details behind which school districts have reported testing and which have not. It is a situation that many are calling ridiculous and dangerous. One state representative said that government buildings that are funded by taxpayers should not be shielded by privacy laws.
KARE 11 news in Minnesota filed public records request to try to get the information. They were successful, and much of what they found was shocking. Not only have only 53 filed reports since 2012, but the vast majority of public school buildings in the Twin Cities area have not been tested for 20 years. Stillwater and Elk River schools do perform tests, but only every 10 years or so.
Those who did perform testing did not always do so properly. For instance, the recommendations are that every ground level room that is used frequently should be tested, since ground level rooms are most likely to have radon. Instead, most school districts only take samples from some of those rooms as opposed to all of them. Cutting corners like this can mean that radon in many classrooms is probably going undetected. Experts say that radon levels can vary drastically, even between rooms that are right next to each other. In a sense, says one expert, the districts are playing “Russian roulette” with the health of the children.
The Minneapolis school district has started testing its schools again in the past year, however they only tested 6 schools out of 42. They also just took samples from some rooms. Of those districts who are performing testing, they are not only not sampling enough rooms, but they are not testing all their buildings, either, meaning some of their schools are being left unprotected.
Radon gas can cause serious health issues such as lung cancer, even in people who have never smoked. Hopefully the school districts in Minnesota make the safety of children a priority and start testing properly for the dangerous substance.