News 3 investigates: Is your child’s school testing for a deadly gas?
MADISON, Wis. — Kirk and Lindsay Mefford still remember the first home they tested for radon – long before they made a business out of it – because it was their own.
“We found out it was really high, sky high,” Lindsay Mefford said. “It was like six times the amount that the EPA would like.”
From there the Meffords started researching and learning about how radon is an odorless, invisible gas, and how it is dubbed the silent killer for its role as the second leading cause of lung cancer.
That led to their business and to the types of questions informed parents like to ask.
“When our oldest has a sleepover, I ask, ‘Oh where’d you guys sleep?’ ‘In the basement.’ ‘Oh have they had their radon test done?'” Kirk Mefford said.
They don’t stop at friends’ houses. The Meffords said even Grandma’s house is off limits because she hasn’t tested for radon.
But one place is out of their hands: their kids’ schools.
“To think about our kids, you spend seven, eight hours a day at school every day, so it would be nice to know, just for peace of mind,” Lindsay Mefford said. “And maybe the levels wouldn’t be high.”
Even though the EPA recommends schools test every ground-level room every two to five years, most schools don’t.
News 3 asked 55 school districts in south central Wisconsin when was the last time they tested for radon. Of the 36 districts that responded, only four have tested district-wide in the last five years.
“Twenty-five thousand students in schools, 180 days a year, breathing air that could have elevated levels of radon, that’s a public health concern,” Kirk Mefford said.
Jessica Maloney, the indoor air and radon program manager for the Wisconsin State Department of Health Services, said a public health concern is right.
“It’s important for schools to be testing because we want to reduce your overall exposure to radon throughout your lifetime,” Maloney said. “Because lung cancer is a later stage of life disease, and if you can reduce your exposure at home and places where you spend a significant amount of time, I think we should be doing that.”
Maloney said testing for radon in the Midwest is especially important because of its geology.
The chemical lives in uranium deposits in our soil. It spreads everywhere, but it can concentrate indoors because of the way we build our homes. Heating systems pull the gas up, and because we keep our windows and doors closed in the winter, it can build up over winter months. As soon as it gets above 4 pCi/L, it is no longer safe to be around.
But paying for testing in every ground level classroom in every building in the entire district can be costly, and as some schools pointed out when News 3 asked, it’s not required by state law.
“It’s not for me to say whose responsibility it should be,” Maloney said. “I think districts can get organized and figure it out as they do a maintenance plan for all of their schools, they could add radon to that list.”
There are grants available through the EPA for states to get money to test for radon, but there were none available to schools.
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