The research is clear–healthy schools are foundational to student and staff health, healthy child development, and academic performance. As a society, we want nothing more than for our schools to be safe places of growth and learning! But what do we mean by a “healthy” building?
One of the most prominent environmental health concerns is radon. Radon, a naturally occurring gas that is undetectable by human senses, is one of the leading causes of lung cancer deaths in the US–second only to smoking. Radon gas is caused by the breakdown of uranium underground. It enters buildings from cracks in a building’s foundation, and through soil and water. A nationwide survey of radon levels in schools conducted by the EPA estimates that 1 in 5 schools have at least one classroom with elevated levels of radon. Southwestern PA is a hot spot for increased radon levels, with majority of the counties in the high or moderately high Radon Risk Zone.
The role that the built environment plays in protecting our health from Radon cannot be understated. The global COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the ways in which the built environment interacts with our health by emphasizing the need for clean indoor air and removal of pollutants from within our buildings. It is important that we address the existing environmental hazards within our school buildings, as it can affect our lung health and put school occupants at greater risk for disease transmission.
It’s essential that we continue to address hazards like radon and lead in our school buildings as we implement best practices for indoor air quality to control the spread of COVID-19.
Fortunately, affordable radon testing is now available through the 1,000 Hours a Year Initiative made possible through the Heinz Endowments. Celebrate National Radon Action Month this January with Women for a Healthy Environment and Green Building Alliance by encouraging your school district to be a leader on radon prevention.
Find out how to take action to ensure that every child learns in a healthy school at www.1000hoursayear.org.