How to Recognize Radon Symptoms in your Child
Schools and childcare centers around the country are supposed to be safe environments for children to learn and play. However, this is not always the case, as the invisible risk of radon could be putting your child’s health at risk. In addition, radon symptoms are an indicator of long-term exposure – so parents need to know whether or not their children’s school is safe.
It may be surprising to know that not every state requires schools and childcare centers to test for radon. Thankfully, New Jersey passed legislation requiring all private schools and childcare buildings to test radon every five years.
However, if your child is exhibiting symptoms from radon exposure, their school could be to blame. Here is what every parent needs to know about radon risks and what to do if your child has been exposed.
What is Radon Gas, and Why is it Harmful?
Radon is a gas that is naturally formed in the soil when radioactive metals break down. This gas can be emitted into the air, and it emits no taste, smell, or color. However, since radon is radioactive, it can cause cancer. The radioactive elements in this gas kill the cells within the lining of the lungs, and it is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.
There are trace amounts of radon in almost all places in the world – but concentrated pockets of radon can be harmful. According to the EPA, the average outdoor radon level is 0.4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter of air). The risk of lung cancer with extended exposure is up to 35 times greater than the risk of drowning, even for non-smokers.
How Are You Exposed to Radon?
Since radon is present within bedrock and soil, it can be released when dug up or disturbed. This commonly happens during construction, as foundations are laid, and pipes are dug deep into the ground.
Radon has also been found in drinking water, particularly from well water. However, this risk is generally quite minimal as only about 1-2% of radon gas is found in water. Radon typically escapes from the water into the air in water sources like lakes, springs, and reservoirs.
Exposure commonly occurs from breathing in air that contains radon, both indoors and outdoors. Radon can seep in through the cracks and gaps in buildings, getting into the air inside of the building. If you are in a building with radon present for continuous hours every day, it could significantly increase your chances of getting lung cancer.
This is why schools, childcare centers, and workplaces need to be tested regularly since people spend long hours in these spaces. It is alarming to note that the EPA states that 20% of US schools have at least one classroom that has radon levels that exceed the action level of 4.0 pCi/L.
One way to check for suspected radon exposure is to use the EPA’s Map of Radon Zones. This helps to show towns and counties where radon levels are higher than average. This can be a good starting point if you suspect that your child’s school may have radon.
What Does Radon Do to Your Body?
Symptoms from radon exposure take time to surface, and they may not be obvious at first. A person cannot see, smell, nor taste radon, or even determine if they have symptoms during early exposure.
First and foremost, radon exposure can result in an increased likelihood of lung cancer. Lung cancer may take years and decades to manifest itself and is therefore rare in children. However, the early stages of lung cancer can be similar to the common cold, allergies, or respiratory issues. It is quite unlikely for young children even to exhibit these signs of exposure until they are older. So, parents need to be incredibly proactive about measuring their radon exposure.
According to the Medical News Today, the most common symptoms of high radon exposure that may be indicative of lung cancer are:
- Persistent coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Hoarse voice
- Chest pain, especially while coughing
- Frequent respiratory infections like bronchitis or pneumonia
- Coughing up blood
- Weight loss and extreme fatigue
How Can I Protect Myself and My Family From Radon Gas?
First, it is important to check on your child’s school’s radon testing status. Schools and child care facilities must pass an air sampling test by the state before they can begin operations.
You may be able to contact the school to inquire about the results of the air sampling test and any additional IAQ (indoor air quality) tests that have been conducted. For example, if several years have passed and your child is exhibiting symptoms of poor air quality (such as radon symptoms), you may request that the school conduct another test.
Radon testing services will come to the facility and gather air samples from various areas throughout the building. Typically, these are taken from the lowest levels since this will be where the highest concentration of radon is present.
The air samples are then sent to a lab for testing. The results will show the exact levels of radon in each area. All in all, radon testing takes 2 to 6 days to complete (depending on the size of the building), and results take about two days.
If high radon levels are detected, the child care center or school will need to hire radon mitigation services to take care of the issue. This may involve re-insulating the building and improving the air filtration system to reduce the amount of radon seeping into the air. In some cases, sub-slab depressurization may be necessary. This involves installing suction pipes beneath the foundation to draw out radon gas.
Parents should be proactive about reducing their child’s exposure to radon at home, too. You can schedule radon tests for your home every few years, as well as additional indoor air quality testing to check for other issues.
Over to You
Every single parent wants to do all that they can to protect the health and safety of their children. Unfortunately, while child care centers and schools are intended to be safe places, your child could be exposed to dangerous radon levels while sitting in the classroom.
Before your child exhibits any symptoms of radon exposure, you should first do all you can to limit their exposure. This includes inquiring about radon testing in their child care center or school and having your own home inspected.
If you would like to learn more about radon testing or schedule an inspection for your home, school, or office, please contact Paul Sakson Environmental. We offer environmental testing services for child care centers, schools, and commercial and residential properties throughout the state of New Jersey. We would be more than happy to answer your questions and provide you with some peace of mind.