NBC’s local KARE 11 news ran an investigative reporting story Monday evening, highlighting the large number of Minnesota school districts who are not following state and local recommendations to test for radon in schools.
Much of the twin cities metro, including Wright County, is a high-risk area for unsafe levels of radon, and experts have recommended that school districts test all ground level rooms in schools every five years to check radon levels. However, KARE 11’s investigation found that only 53 of Minnesota’s 331 school districts are in compliance with the recommendations. Luckily for local families, both STMA and Elk River’s District 728 are two of those 53 districts who are in compliance.
What is Radon?
Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas. The American Cancer Society said it forms naturally from the decay of radioactive elements, such as uranium, and it is found in soil and rock.
Radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer after smoking, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that children are especially vulnerable. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 20,000 cases of lung cancer result from radon exposure each year. An elementary school student who spends eight hours per day and 180 days per year in a classroom with a 4 pCi/L of radon, the EPA’s recommended action level for radon exposure, will receive nearly 10 times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows at the edge of a nuclear power plant.
“Although we are not required to take samples or have a plan, STMA has taken samples and has a Radon Management Plan,” Superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault said. “The results showed no levels above the recommended 4 pCi/L threshold.”
She said the district began radon testing in the 2005-06 school year, and testing has also taken place during the 2009-10, 2013-14 and 2014-15 school year.
“The selection of sample locations is based on risk factors which may influence the likelihood of the presence of radon such as basement level spaces or rooms with access to crawl space air plenums,” the district’s policy said. “Utilization of the room or space will also be factored into the sample location selection.”
Foucault said all ground level rooms are sampled.
The policy also said the St. Michael-Albertville district relies upon the recommended 4 pCi/L threshold level, and said the district will investigate and implement corrective measures to reduce occupant exposure if radon levels are detected at or above this threshold limit.
State Level Responses
Governor Mark Dayton responded to KARE 11’s story the next day, calling school districts’ inaction on radon testing ‘disgraceful.’ He encouraged Minnesota legislators to turn radon testing recommendations into law this session. He also floated the idea of using executive action to get requirements in place if the legislature does not act this session. Meanwhile, Minnesota school district officials said that funding should be provided along with any new legislation so the testing doesn’t become an unfunded mandate.
Education Minnesota, Minnesota’s teacher union, also encouraged school districts to take the report seriously and to implement testing to ensure student and staff safety.