INDIANAPOLIS — New action is underway to protect your child’s lungs following a WRTV investigation that found most Indiana schools are not testing for radon.
Radon is a naturally occurring gas that comes from decaying uranium.
It can seep into schools, homes and other buildings from the surrounding soil and is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers — killing an estimated 600 people a year in Indiana and roughly 21,000 people a year throughout the U.S.
State Rep. Mike Andrade, D-Munster, filed House Bill 1395 which would require public schools to test the lowest level of their buildings.
"We are in 2023 and this still hasn't been addressed," said Andrade. "My bill is saying look- let's get these public school buildings tested for radon gas. Recently I saw an article that you have been bringing awareness as well."
WRTV Investigates has been tracking this issue for years.
This past summer, WRTV surveyed more than a dozen school districts in Central Indiana and found most have not tested for radon in the last decade, despite EPA recommendations to test at least every five years.
Indiana does not require schools to test.
WRTV Investigates found a dozen other states have already taken action regarding radon in schools — implementing laws or regulations that require or recommend testing.
The Indiana Department of Health does not compile or track which schools have tested for radon.
IDOH is not keeping data on radon in schools.
“It's astonishing,” said Andrade. “We need to make it a priority, which I have.”
Andrade’s bill would require schools to submit their radon test results to the Indiana Department of Health who would compile the information in a database and use the information “to reduce the health risks of radon.”
Because of WRTV Investigates’ reporting, a 2019 law requires the Indiana Department of Health to distribute indoor air quality manuals to schools with information about radon testing.
But WRTV found the radon testing language in the 2019 manual was confusing and buried in a paragraph about retesting.
After our story aired in June 2022, the state updated the indoor air quality manual, which now clearly states, “Radon testing in schools is highly recommended by the Indiana Department of Health."
The Indiana Department of Health tells WRTV the manual was updated in July and posted to the state’s website and also sent by email to the Indiana Department of Education’s list of school superintendents on July 15, 2022.
The EPA recommends schools take action to mitigate when the radon level hits 4 pCi/L or above.
The average indoor radon level in Marion County is 4.6 pCi/L – that is equal to more than 200 chest X-rays a year or smoking 9 cigarettes daily.
Any radon level poses some health risk and it is not possible to reduce radon to zero.
“Children have higher breathing rates that puts them at higher risk to radiation including radon,” said Kyle Hoylman, CEO of Protect Environmental, a company that contracts with Indiana schools to provide mitigation and testing.
Mitigation can cost schools thousands of dollars.
But Hoylman points out Indiana’s medical cost burden for lung cancers caused by radon is $198 million per year.
“That’s direct medical costs for treatment of a disease that’s largely preventable,” said Hoylman. “We would prefer to pay now to protect our children.”
Most people don’t realize they’ve been exposed to radon until they’re diagnosed with lung cancer later in life.
Rep. Andrade says he wants to protect Indiana’s children from that same fate.
"They are going to be our next leaders in our community so we want to make sure we are addressing their health issues,” said Andrade.
The Indiana State Teachers Association supports the legislation.
“ISTA supports required radon testing for schools, as student health and safety should be one of our top priorities,” read a statement. “We hope that the bill will get heard this session.”
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House bill 1395 has been assigned to the Environmental Affairs committee.
It has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
If you want to test your home, many health departments are giving out tests for free.
In Marion County, call 317-221-2266 or visit here.
To purchase a low-cost radon short term or long term test kit, visit the American Lung Association
If you have general radon questions, please contact the Indiana Radon Hotline at 1-800-272-9723.
You may also contact Katie Etter at 317-233-1294, firstname.lastname@example.org