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School- Large Building Protocols

Radon Measurement in Schools

Introduction

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other major national and international scientific organizations have concluded that radon is a human carcinogen and a serious environmental health problem. Early concern about indoor radon focused primarily on the hazard posed in the home. More recently, the EPA has conducted extensive research on the presence and measurement of radon in schools. Initial reports from some of those studies prompted the Administrator in 1989 to recommend that schools nationwide be tested for the presence of radon. Based on more recent findings, EPA continues to advise U.S. Schools to test for radon and to reduce levels to below 4 pCi/L.

This report has been prepared to provide school administrators and facilities managers with instructions on how to test for the presence of radon. The findings from EPA's comprehensive studies of radon measurements in schools have been incorporated into these recommendations. This report supersedes Radon Measurements in Schools - An Interim Report (EPA 520/1-89-010). However, it does not invalidate tests conducted or tests in the process of being conducted under the interim report.

The amount of radon gas in the air is measured in picocuries per liter of air or pCi/L. However, sometimes test results are expressed in Working Levels (WL), representing radon decay products. EPA recommends that schools take action to reduce the level of radon when levels are 4 pCi/L (or 0.02 WL) or higher. Testing is the only way to determine whether or not the radon concentration in a school room is below the action level. Measuring levels of radon gas in schools is a relatively easy and inexpensive process compared to many other important building upkeep activities.

Because radon levels in schools have been found to vary significantly from room to room, schools should test all frequently-occupied rooms in contact with the ground. If a room is found to have a level of 4 pCi/L or greater, this measurement result should be confirmed with another test. If the second test is also at or above 4 pCi/L, schools should take action to reduce the radon level to below 4 pCi/L.

In addition to radon, some schools may be interested in addressing overall indoor air quality concerns. Many schools have poor indoor air quality resulting in part from low rates of ventilation (low outdoor air intake). This is often the result of poor maintenance and improper operation of the HVAC system or limiting the intake of outdoor air to reduce heating (and cooling) costs. EPA has released practical guidance on improving indoor air quality in school buildings. The guidance entitled Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools is available through the Superintendent of Documents; P.O. Box 371954; Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954.