Health and Safety Tips

  • Radon – A Big Deal in Minnesota

    Most people have heard of radon, but many do not know that it is a naturally-occurring, radioactive gas that is very common in Minnesota. Radon is so common here that in 2009 the Minnesota Legislature passed a law that all new homes have to be built with a passive radon mitigation system. Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, only behind smoking. The Twin Cities are in the EPA’s “Zone 1,” which is the classification for radon concentrations likely to be over the action level, and is the highest category.

    There is no requirement to test schools for radon, but South St. Paul Schools has done so regularly since the late 1980s. District practice is to test every occupied space in contact with the ground in every building every five years, following guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health and the US Environmental Protection Agency. When radon over the action level is found, steps are taken to mitigate radon down below the action level, and then re-test to verify that the mitigation was effective.

    You might think that because the district is on top of radon that it’s not an issue you need to be concerned about, but the reality is that people have a much greater chance of being exposed to radon in their homes than in school buildings. One reason is that students and school employees spend twice as much time at home as they do at school on a school day, which doesn’t include weekends, holidays or summer break, where most students and staff aren’t in school buildings at all. Another reason is that all of our school buildings are constantly being ventilated during the day, so if any radon or other contaminants are present, they are constantly being removed from the building. Most home furnaces only run when they are heating or cooling, and depending on the weather, they might run only for short periods of the day, or even not at all. They also tend to recirculate air, with whatever contaminants are in it, whereas school ventilation systems completely replace the air in the building several times per hour with fresh outdoor air.

    Luckily, the Minnesota Department of Health has a lot of great resources for radon in the home, and they contracted with one of the largest radon labs in the country to supply low-cost, effective test kits to homeowners. It’s the same lab we use for testing our schools. You can test your home for less than $10, and this time of year is the best time to do it. It includes the kit, the postage to send it back, and the report. You can order your test kit here.

    For more information about radon in your home, visit the Minnesota Department of Health website. 

    If you have questions regarding radon in our schools, please feel free to direct them to David Slomkowski, Health and Safety Coordinator, or Glen Birnstengel, Director of Buildings and Grounds.