INDIANAPOLIS — You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. And that’s part of the problem, advocates say.
Radon comes from decaying uranium and is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.
Indiana does not require schools to test for the gas, this despite several failed efforts by Indiana lawmakers to change that.
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.
With the 2024 legislative session just around the corner, lawmakers and advocates are gearing up for another push to require schools to test for radon.
“In Indiana, 40 percent of the buildings contain toxic levels of radon gas,” said Kyle Hoylman, CEO at Protect Environmental, a company that tests homes, businesses and schools for radon in Indiana.
Employees at the Warrick County Courthouse in Boonville Indiana are currently taking legal action after they say they became sick because of toxic levels or radon.
Typically, most people don’t know they have been exposed until they develop lung cancer later in life.
“It's just another example of why we should be testing,” said Hoylman. "School is a place that is supposed to be safe. Unfortunately, a lot of schools in Indiana are not safe."
Hoylman said Indiana’s laws are not adequate.
“It’s a suggestion. A recommendation,” said Hoylman.
Right now, at least nine states have some sort of requirement for schools to test for radon—Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia, according to the American Association of Radon Scientists & Technologists 2022 Radon Report Card.
In 2022, 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.
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.
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."
Last session, State Rep. Mike Andrade, D-Munster, filed House Bill 1395 which would have required public schools to test the lowest level of their buildings for radon.
The bill was assigned to the Environmental Affairs committee, however, it failed to get a hearing last legislative session.
"While I am disappointed my bill to require schools to test for cancer-causing radon gas did not receive a hearing this session, I will keep fighting for this legislation and the immense good it would do for students, teachers and school staff," said Rep. Mike Andrade.
Lawmakers have tried for several years to pass radon testing requirements for schools to no avail.
Andrade said he plans to re-file his radon legislation in the upcoming 2024 session.
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.
Here’s what you can do to protect your family against radon-induced lung cancer:
- Contact your school board and superintendent and ask for their most recent radon test results
- If your school doesn’t have any test results, ask them to do a radon test
- Do a radon test on your home using an at-home kit or hire a company
- Remember radon can impact newer buildings as well—they’re so airtight they trap the gas
- Ask your workplace or employer to do a radon test
- Contact Indiana state representatives and senators and ask them to consider legislation requiring schools to test for radon
- Call the American Lung Association radon hotline at 1-800-272-9723
- Learn more about radon on the EPA website: https://www.epa.gov/radon