INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana — A new effort is underway aimed at better protecting the health of Indiana children in the classroom.
A recent WRTV television station found most schools do not test for radon, a lung cancer-causing gas that comes up through the soil, even though the EPA recommends schools test at least every five years.
The federal EPA estimates one in five schools has a classroom with dangerous levels of radon.
State lawmakers have already vowed to take action, including looking at possible legislation requiring schools test for the radioactive material or requiring new school buildings use radon-resistant materials.
Now, environmental groups are getting involved in the movement as well as the Indiana State Department of Health.
Following the WRTV investigation, the Sierra Club’s Hoosier Chapter passed a resolution supporting requirements for radon testing in daycares and schools in Indiana.
The Hoosier Environmental Council also supports requirements.
“Yes, I think Indiana should have testing requirements for schools,” said Dr. Indra Frank, environmental health director with the Hoosier Environmental Council. “It is estimated that 1 in 3 Indiana homes has elevated levels of radon that can be unhealthy.”
The EPA map shows much of Central Indiana is in a hot zone for radon, meaning the gas is widespread throughout the soil and buildings in our state.
Dr. Frank emphasized radon can be in new or old buildings, including homes and schools.
"Radon isn't going to discriminate about which type of building it seeps into," said Frank.
Improving Kids’ Environment, a group that trains Indiana schools on air quality issues, is also concerned about radon.
"I think with schools if you don't hold their feet to the fire, because they have so many things that they are accountable for, they just let those things go," said Margaret Frericks, Program Manager with Improving Kids’ Environment.
A dozen other states have laws or regulations in place regarding radon in schools, and Frericks says it’s time for Indiana.
Frericks said many people overlook radon because children often do not get lung cancer, and there’s no signs or symptoms associated with radon exposure.
“It should be done,” said Frericks. “Not knowing is not an excuse."
As environmental groups get ready for the upcoming legislative session, WRTV is already getting results at the Indiana State Department of Health.
After our story aired, ISDH added information about radon to the indoor air quality website for schools, and they’re now in the process of developing best practices regarding radon in the classroom.
“ISDH is required to review the best practices documents every three years, but we make changes and updates as needed,” said Megan Wade-Taxter, a spokeswoman for ISDH. “Ensuring that schools have the most up-to-date information on how to best protect the health of students, faculty and all those who enter their buildings is important.”
Environmental groups say it’s a step in the right direction, and that we all pay down the road for people who develop radon-induced lung cancer.
“Preventing an unhealthy exposure is much less expensive than trying to cure a disease once it’s arisen,” said Frank.