Radon testing in schools, suggested not required

According to the EPA, living in a home with South Dakota’s average radon level is like “having...
According to the EPA, living in a home with South Dakota’s average radon level is like “having 300 chest X-rays each year.”(Courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency)
Published: Aug. 24, 2023 at 8:55 AM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - It’s colorless, tasteless, and odorless, but you can potentially feel the effects. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer and according to an American Lung Association (ALA) report South Dakota has the highest radon levels reported.

Radon gas is released from Uranium in the ground and can become trapped in buildings causing serious health risks. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates radon exposure is responsible for 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year.

“About 60% of radon tests that have been submitted are at or above the recommended levels of action by the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Molly Collins, an advocacy director for the American Lung Association.

The EPA recommends homes be fixed for radon at 4 picocuries per liter or pCi. 8.5 pCi/L is the mean radon level in South Dakota—according to the 2022 American Lung Association Radon Report. The highest levels reported in South Dakota are in Custer County. While there is no law mandating schools or childcare facilities to be tested for radon, the EPA suggests those buildings be tested every 5 years.

When asked if the ALA receives any reports of schools or childcare facilities testing for radon in South Dakota, Collins said she did not know the answer.

Rapid City Area Schools were selected in 1990 by the EPA to test for radon. Of the 8 schools tested the radon levels averaged 8.2 cPi/L, double the suggested levels to be fixed. Lincoln Elementary had the highest levels with 18.8 pCi/L, RCAS says this school is now closed to students. Grand View Elementary reported an average level of 4.4 pCi/L, just above the threshold, and remains open. Rushmore Radon Mitigations in Rapid City reports seeing radon levels at 300 pCi/L near the Robbinsdale neighborhood.

“So the Black Hills here is really high. Custer County has some of the highest radon levels that we see. On the east side of town like the Robbinsdale area, that is very high,” said Barb Rave, owner of Rushmore Radon Mitigations.

To get radon levels down Rushmore Radon Mitigations install fans into homes. Rave says testing and mitigating on a large scale takes a different approach.

We reached out to RCAS to see if they test schools for radon, and provided a link to the 1993 EPA report. RCAS responded saying, “Lincoln is currently getting remodeled but does have a radon system in it. The CFOO (Coy Sasse) feels that this is not something we would like to touch base on right at this moment due to construction, but we would be happy to reconvene when the remodel is complete!”

We asked if RCAS conducts radon testing in any other schools, but received no response. We reached out again on August 9 and August 17 with no response.

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