The Environmental Protection Agency ranks indoor radon among the most serious environmental health problems facing us today. After smoking, it is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States causing an estimated twenty-one thousand lung cancer deaths a year.
The 2015 Oregon Legislature passed House Bill (HB) 2931 to assess elevated radon levels in Oregon Schools. HB 2931 later became Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 332.166-167. Under the statute, school districts were to submit a plan to the Oregon Health Authority by September 1, 2016 (click here to see HSD's plan). Actual testing of schools must be done on or before January 1, 2021. The testing results must be sent to OHA and posted on the school or school district's website. For more information, please see the document Testing for Elevated Radon in Oregon Schools document in the Testing Resources section.
What is Radon?
Radon comes from natural deposits of uranium in the soil. It is found everywhere in the world. Uranium naturally decays into radium that further breaks down into radon gas. While some geographic areas have more radon than others, the only way to determine a building's radon level is to test it. Any building has the potential for elevated levels of radon. Because radon is a gas, it can move up through the soil, allowing it to enter buildings in contact with the soil. Radon is typically at its highest concentration in the lower portion of a building. Once radon enters a building, it is easily dispersed through the air. It then begins a radioactive decay process that leads to creating radon decay products. Radon gas itself is relatively harmless until it produces these decay products. The decay products release damaging energy particles that strike lung tissue and lead to lung tissue damage if inhaled. (Source: Testing for Elevated Radon in Oregon Schools: A Protocol and Plan, Version 1.0 - 2016, Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division, p. 8)
HSD's plan for radon testing in schools calls for conducting that testing on a rotating basis to ensure all schools have been covered before the required deadline of January 1, 2021. The method of testing involves placing passive detection devices in each ground floor-level room and then recording the results. If those results are at or above the concentration limit of 4.0 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air, either additional testing will be done or remediation will begin. Typically, remediation involves improving air circulation in the space.