LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When summer comes to a close there are many checklists -- parents have school supplies lists and teachers have to-do lists all to prepare for the school doors to open.
The administration at Anchorage Independent School added another item to their school safety checklist: Testing for radon. This summer, the school added two mitigation systems to correct failing radon test scores.
WHAT IS RADON?
Radon is a radioactive gas and the second leading cause of lung cancer because you can't see it, you can't taste it, you can't smell. Radon gas can an invisible killer for those breathing it over time.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 21,000 Americans die annually from radon-induced lung cancer, including people who have quit smoking or never smoked.
Much of Kentuckiana is a danger zone -- EPA maps indicate the average level of radon could be at the 'action level' of 4.0 picocuries per liter.
The type of soil and rock in this area makes it particularly prone to high radon potential. Limestone and shale are prevalent in our area and according to Bethany Overfield, University of Kentucky Geological Survey Research Geologist.
"Outside it [radon] just dissipates and doesn't cause any harm really but when it's inside, when it gets trapped in a building, that's when we breathe it in and it causes damage to the cells," Dr. Ellen Hahn explains. She is part of the University of Kentucky BREATHE Research Team and College of Nursing and College of Public Health.
When we breathe in radon gas, particles get stuck in soft lung tissue-damaging cell DNA and that is what ultimately causes cancer.
TESTING IN SCHOOLS
A 4.0 is a perfect grade but on a radon test, a 4.0 is warning sign warranting action, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
"Four picocuries being exposed to that level of radon is the equivalent of smoking a half a pack of cigarettes per day or getting up every day and Monday through Friday for your full CT scan every day," Kyle Holyman, Protect Environmental Managing Partner told us. "Billy is smoking eight to ten to twelve cigarettes a day just by being in that classroom."
Anchorage Independent Schools started testing in 2016 and they continue to test and retest.
"We've decided we're going to test every single classroom and space in our building," Anchorage Superintendent Kelley Ransdell told us. "We also took some additional steps to install new lids and seals on our three sump pumps systems."
Anchorage Independent School is self-imposing even stricter standards. "Any space that has ever tested 2.0 or above we're going to do a year-long test in that space," Ransdell explained.
They would have never known staff and students were exposed to potentially dangerous levels of radon gas unless they tested.
That is why in 2018 we wanted to see how other school districts in our area scored.
FOCUS INVESTIGATION FINDINGS
In 2018, we asked twenty school districts in Kentucky and Indiana if they had any record of radon testing. Only five districts found records of testing, some had only tested a few rooms and some had not tested in decades. After we started asking questions, two Indiana school districts started testing.
You can find our full report from 2018 here.
After our initial report, we wanted to circle back around with the districts to see if they were doing anything differently a year later. Since we started asking questions, five Southern Indiana districts that had never tested now had radon on the radar.
- New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School
- Lanesville Community Schools
- South Harrison County Community Schools
- Southwestern Jefferson County Consolidated Schools
- West Washington School Corporation