DEP Urges Pennsylvanians to Test Homes for Radon; PA schools aren’t required to test for lead or radon, so many Pittsburgh-area districts don’t

DEP Urges Pennsylvanians to Test Homes for Radon Press Release by PA government, January 10, 2017

Harrisburg, PA – The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) urges Pennsylvanians to test their homes for radon in January as part of national Radon Action Month. Colorless, odorless, and radioactive, radon is a known human carcinogen and the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.

The DEP website provides information and a video on how to test your home, the DEP Facebook and Twitter pages are sharing daily radon tips, and a DEP public service announcement is airing on TV and radio.

Radon occurs naturally from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks and enters homes through cracks in the foundation or other openings.

“Because of its geology, Pennsylvania is prone to high radon levels. Radon has been detected in all 67 counties, and about 40 percent of homes have levels above the Environmental Protection Agency action level,” said DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “It’s just good sense to protect yourself and your loved ones.”

The EPA action level is 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air. In October, a home in southern Lehigh County showed a radon level of 6,176 pCi/L, the highest recorded in the state. That area is near the Reading Prong, a geological section of granite rock that’s historically generated high levels of radon.

Winter is an ideal time to test, because doors and windows are generally closed, producing the most conservative results. High levels of radon tend to be found in basements, but the gas can be found anywhere in the home.

Simple radon test kits are inexpensive and available at home improvement and hardware stores. You can also hire a qualified radon professional.

If your home has a radon level higher than 4 pCi/L, the U.S. Surgeon General and EPA recommend taking action. A professionally installed radon reduction system, using a vent pipe and exhaust fan, will help prevent the radon from entering your home and discharge it outside. Compared with the associated risk of lung cancer, these systems are very affordable, generally in the price range of other common home improvements. An added benefit: having a radon reduction system makes the future sale of your home easier.

Pennsylvania law requires all professional radon testers, mitigators and laboratories to be certified by DEP, and the department provides a list of certified radon service providers. People can also obtain a hard copy or verify a company’s certification by calling 800-23RADON (800-237-2366).

If you’re building a new home, DEP recommends installing a passive radon system during construction. There is no reliable way to test the ground in advance for radon, and the cost of installing the radon system during construction should be less than installing one after the fact.

For people buying or selling a home, Pennsylvania’s Real Estate Seller Disclosure Act requires sellers to disclose the results of any known radon testing. The DEP website lists radon testing options for real estate transactions. [Emphasis added]

PA schools aren’t required to test for lead or radon, so many Pittsburgh-area districts don’t by Kristina Marusic, December 4, 2016, New Pittsburgh Courier

[Think of how many schools are surrounded by frac operations.

How many schools test their drinking water supply for the many secret frac chemicals being injected and vented/flared around them?]

What was supposed to be a routine visit to the pediatrician with little Oren resulted in a finding that sent Katy Rank Lev and her husband, Corey, into a frenzy.

Their 1-year-old had lead in his blood.

Would it affect his growth? His brain development? And where could it be coming from?

Their Point Breeze home was built in 1900. Because of its age, they realized its paint could contain lead and that the contractors renovating it could be stirring up lead-laced dust.
They asked the workers to take precautions to control the dust, and they wiped down all the walls, top to bottom, with a detergent that’s supposed to minimize lead dust.

It wasn’t the first environmental threat they had to fight within their home.

Prior to moving in, they discovered high radon levels in some rooms. Radon exposure has been linked to lung cancer, so they spent about $850 to install a radon mitigation system.

Given all the steps they’ve taken to make their home safe for their three sons — 7-year-old Miles, 4-year-old Felix, and Oren, who is now 2 — Rank Lev is shocked to learn the boys could be exposed to the toxins in the other place they spend most of their time.

School. One hundred and eighty days a year. Six to seven hours a day. The place they go to learn, socialize and grow. Yet in Pennsylvania, there isn’t a single law requiring public school districts to test for environmental toxins like radon in the air, lead in the paint, or lead in the drinking water if they use a municipal water supply. As a result, many schools don’t regularly conduct testing, and some have never tested at all.

In May, PublicSource filed open record requests with Pittsburgh Public Schools and the 10 Allegheny County school districts with the most students enrolled to determine which districts are voluntarily testing for environmental toxins, how often they’re doing so, and what steps they’re taking to correct problems.

The 11 school districts we received records from account for about 70,736 students from kindergarten to 12th grade. That’s 51 percent of K-12 students in the county in the 2015-16 school year, and it includes both urban and suburban districts.

Here’s what we found when it comes to lead and radon testing:

Based on the records we received, it appears that Baldwin-Whitehall, Bethel Park, and Plum Borough school districts have never tested any buildings for lead or radon. Each of those school districts includes buildings constructed before 1978, which means they’re likely to contain both lead-based paint and lead pipes. Baldwin-Whitehall did not respond to requests for comment, while Bethel Park and Plum school districts said they had no statement to give.

It’s important to note that when districts did conduct testing, they often did so only in select rooms or buildings. For example, the last time the Pittsburgh school district conducted radon tests was in 2006 and 2007, but they only tested certain areas at Linden, Concord and Colfax elementary schools. No problems were detected at Linden or Colfax, and the district says the elevated radon levels detected at Concord were remediated in subsequent renovations.

However, the company that conducted the radon tests at Linden and Concord noted, “These tests were not done in accordance to the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] Protocols” because doors and windows were left open during the testing.” The recommended retesting has never been conducted.

We found that just because a district tested, that didn’t necessarily mean they took corrective action or informed parents of their findings.

The North Allegheny School District detected elevated radon levels in both Carson and Ingomar middle schools in 2003 (the only two buildings that were tested), but provided no documentation of corrective actions taken. It’s possible that renovations done in both buildings in 2005 addressed the issue, but according to the documents provided, no follow-up tests have been conducted in those buildings to ensure that radon levels are no longer elevated. They tested the water in numerous school buildings for lead in 2015, and although no levels above EPA limits were detected, numerous fountains had a lead content above zero. The highest level detected was 10.8 parts per billion. The district provided no documentation of corrective actions taken and declined to comment.

We found that just because a district tested, that didn’t necessarily mean they took corrective action or informed parents of their findings.

Some districts that haven’t tested let us know that they have taken other precautionary steps.

Although Pine-Richland School District has never tested for lead-based paint, they note that all district buildings have been “remodeled and repainted within the last 20 years.” This doesn’t eliminate the possibility of lead-based paint exposure, but it does make it less likely.
The North Hills School District stated that it “completely renovated or built all of its school buildings since 1998 under building codes that did not allow lead in water piping and pipe solder or lead in paints,” and as such, they have not conducted any lead testing. The Upper St. Clair School District similarly stated, “Since all of our school buildings were renovated since 1999, all materials that were used in the various renovations were lead-free.”

Although the Shaler Area School District hasn’t tested for lead in the water, the Hampton Shaler Water Authority has tested water from one randomly selected water fountain in each building in the district. Those test results, posted online in July 2016, all found lead levels below the EPA’s municipal water limit of 15 parts per billion.

How did we get here?

In 1988, Congress passed the Lead Contamination Control Act, which required states to set up protocols for lead testing and remediation of drinking water in schools and early child-care centers. In 1996, a federal appeals court struck it down, ruling that it violated the Tenth Amendment by taking matters out of states’ control.

Although the EPA offers guidelines on testing for lead and radon, it’s up to states to enact and enforce their own laws. Twenty years later, Pennsylvania has yet to pass any such laws. One potential reason: If high levels of radon or lead are detected, the clean-up can get extremely expensive.

“Schools may not take the option to test or might be concerned about testing because they don’t have the budget to fix the problems,” explains Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, the executive director of Women for a Healthy Environment, a Pittsburgh nonprofit. That could be why few local districts have taken advantage of free radon testing kits that were offered to all schools in the state this year. Women for a Healthy Environment noted similar apathy to its offer to help schools test their drinking water for lead at no cost. ‘Kids aren’t just tiny adults’

While issues like lead and radon in schools can have serious effects on the long-term health of teachers and administrators, children are especially at risk. Research indicates that while children’s bodies, immune systems and brains are developing, they’re more vulnerable to permanent damage from exposure to environmental toxins than adults are.
“It’s important to remember that kids aren’t just tiny adults,” says Naccarati-Chapkis. “They’re still growing and developing, so pound-for-pound they’re drinking more water, breathing more air and absorbing much more of whatever is in their environment.”
Research suggests even very low levels of lead exposure in children can result in lower IQ levels and permanent behavioral problems like hyperactivity, shortened attention spans and aggression.

“…Pound-for-pound, they’re drinking more water, breathing more air and absorbing much more of whatever is in their environment.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics put out a statement in June saying there is “no identified threshold or safe level of lead” for children, and calling for stricter regulations in schools and childcare facilities. They urge schools to keep water lead concentrations below 1 part per billion — significantly lower than the 20 parts per billion level Pittsburgh Public Schools used as its standard for replacing water fountains this summer. The district also installed 300 water coolers in 67 Pittsburgh schools at a cost of $1.5 million.

Water isn’t the only way kids are exposed to lead. It’s actually lead-based paint that is the leading cause of lead poisoning in Pennsylvania youth.

Kids don’t have to eat paint chips to be exposed. In areas where paint gets scraped, especially around windows and doors, it wears off in the form of dust. That dust can be breathed in or swallowed. The dust can also seep into soil surrounding homes and schools.

The risks of long-term radon exposure are serious, too. Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking. Scientists estimate that about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year are related to radon, and Pennsylvania’s radon levels are among the highest in the country. Because it’s an invisible, odorless gas, the only way to detect radon is to test regularly.

A ‘really dreadful’ dilemma

“The poorest children always have the schools in the worst conditions,” says Claire Barnett, the executive director of the national Healthy Schools Network. She says because no federal funds are provided directly to schools for environmental work, districts depend on state and municipal funds.

This means that districts with wealthier tax bases are more likely to test and remediate, while poorer districts are forced to prioritize other critical issues — like subsidized lunch and special education programs.

“It’s a really dreadful balancing act,” she says, “because they’re all equally important issues.”
Emily Weise-King, whose 6-year-old son, Remy, attends Colfax Elementary School in Squirrel Hill, finds this prospect upsetting. “Geez, how do you prioritize between feeding kids that can’t afford to have lunch versus testing for lead and radon?” she asks. “Why wouldn’t you want to protect all of the children, instead of just the children who live in a rich neighborhood?” [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

2013 Radon and fracking Larysa Dyrszka MD

Slide by Dr. Larysa Dyrszka, 2013 presentations.

2016 01 22: Scientists mapping deadly radon in Calgary

2015 04 08a; “It looks like fracking has unearthed an unbargained for and serious cancer risk in peoples’ homes.” John Hopkins study links radon levels in Pennsylvania homes to fracking: “These findings worry us”

2014 05 09: Public Health Experts Call on Governor to Study Fracking’s Impact on Cancer-Causing Radon Levels Before Making a Decision On Whether to Allow Drilling

2014 03 11: Santos CBM in NSW Australia contaminates aquifer with uranium at 20 times the safe drinking water levels; Regulator does not test for thorium, radon and radium! Thorium and radon are known to cause lung cancer.

2014 01 21: University of Calgary researchers testing their own homes in search of radon, Results will be used to spur larger look at cancer-causing gas

2013 11 29: Radon — #9 In “Top 10 Toxic Ingredients Used By The Fossil Fuel Industries”; Cochrane Alberta home tests high for radon

2013 03 09: Radon gas leaks in coalbed methane fields in Australia spark call for probe

2012 11 01: Silent killer: Health Canada urges testing homes for cancer-causing radon

2012 Health Canada CrossCanada Survey Radon in Homes

2011 07 15: Radon threats are grounds for precaution ]

This entry was posted in Global Frac News. Bookmark the permalink.