radon

Improving Air Quality in Schools to Celebrate Children’s Health Month 2011

By Lou Witt, Indoor Environments Division and Kathy Seikel, Office of Children’s Health Protection

With an emphasis on healthy schools, this year’s Children’s Health Month brings back memories of life as a student. When we were children, not many people focused on indoor air quality in schools. Until fairly recently, few made removing asthma triggers a priority. Industrial strength pesticides and cleaners were used liberally, and teachers smoked in their own separate lounge. Times have changed. Now we understand how important a healthy environment is to the learning process.

Children are uniquely affected by environmental hazards due to their body size and their immune and respiratory systems not being fully developed. A well located, thoughtfully designed, soundly built and efficiently operated school can help ensure a safer, healthier learning environment for children, allowing them to thrive and succeed.

Join EPA this October and throughout the year as we work with partners to promote healthy environments where children live, learn and play. Proven, cost-effective and often simple actions can directly benefit everyone’s health. Indoors, testing for radon, removing furry pets and stuffed animals from classrooms, using low/no VOC products and going smoke-free are common. The physical location of a school also can affect students. A properly located building can help reduce children’s exposure to harmful pollutants by ensuring a potential school site is safe from contaminants and environmental hazards.

If your community is renovating a school, building a new one or wanting to improve the health and performance of students, Children’s Health Month is the perfect time to get involved. Two great places to visit that will get you started are EPA’s new School Siting Guidelines, which can help mitigate outdoor environmental risks; and the Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Action Kit, which provides guidance and helpful instructions for teachers, staff, students and the community.

Better indoor air quality protects children’s health. To see how you can help create a healthier school environment for youth in your community, visit www.epa.gov/schools/ and www.epa.gov/iaq/schools

Learn more and tell us how you celebrated Children’s Health Month by promoting green, clean and healthy schools!

About the authors:

Kathy Seikel, a senior policy analyst with EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection, has worked for EPA since 1984 and remembers when, as a college student in the 70s, smoking by students and teachers was allowed in all classrooms.

Lou Witt, a Program Analyst in EPA’s Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, is promoting indoor air quality risk reduction

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

The Radon Kids

By Wendy Dew

You are never too young to start saving the world! Kids of all ages are tackling tough environmental issues with enthusiasm and drive.
Eric,10, and sister Christina, 12, have founded the grassroots initiative RAP-Detect to Protect, a collaborative with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the American Lung Association. The objective of Radon Awareness Project, or RAP, is to work in partnership with city, county and state offices to assure that families, schools and elected officials are aware of the potential threat. Christina was recently recognized for her entry in the Colorado 2011 Radon Poster Contest. This is their third award in the contest. Their first came in 2008 when they first learned of the contest and radon.

January is National Radon Action Month and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and eight other federal agencies are announcing a new effort to strengthen the fight against radon exposure. Radon exposure is the leading cause of non-smoking lung cancer.
Radon is a naturally-occurring, invisible and odorless radioactive gas. One in 15 American homes contains high levels of radon. Millions of Americans are unknowingly exposed to this dangerous gas. By taking simple steps to test your home for radon and fix if necessary, this health hazard can be avoided.

If your home hasn’t been tested for radon in the past two years, EPA and the Surgeon General urge you to take action. Contact your state radon office for information on locating qualified test kits or qualified radon testers.

For more information

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 13 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

How I Tested My Home for Radon

By Jani Palmer

I used to be afraid to know if I had high radon levels in my home. I asked questions, I researched, I analyzed, I procrastinated, but the most important step was just doing it. Compared to a calculus exam or even a driving test, a radon test is hands down the easiest.

I live in an area known to have high radon levels, yet it took me nearly a year to test. Why? Probably because I rent my house. I felt a little helpless as to what I would do if I actually did have high radon. Despite my fears, I finally tested my home, and I’m so happy I did. It doesn’t matter if you live in an area that is geologically prone to have high radon levels; the only way to know is to test.

Here’s how I tested my home — it’s this easy:
Step 1: Ordered a radon test kit.
Step 2: Read the directions.
Step 3: Tested. For most tests, this means set it down for two days, retrieve it and mail it.

Seriously, what could be easier? If you don’t know where to start, visit EPA’s radon website. It’s packed with resources on everything from why testing is importing to how to fix your home. You also can call the radon hotline at 1-800-SOS-RADON. I ordered my test kit from a company that takes part in a national proficiency program that ensures testing laboratories are certified and are providing quality measurements. Visit their websites at National Environmental Health Association or National Radon Safety Board for contacts and additional information. A certified tester can even come to your home and test for you if you don’t want to do it yourself. Testing is just so easy. Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in the U.S. among non-smokers. Don’t you want to know what is in your home?

About the author: Jani Palmer is a physical scientist in EPA’s Center for Radon and Air Toxics, Indoor Environments Division. She has been in the indoor air quality and industrial hygiene field for 10 years providing environmental consulting and services for school districts, industry and public agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

My Long Relationship with One Serious Health Risk – Radon

By Lou Witt

January is National Radon Action Month — a key time to focus on a year-round effort — and I’ve seen a lot of them. For more than 18 years, I have worked to improve indoor air quality; much of that time focused on radon risk reduction. Unfortunately, for more years than I’d like to mention, I’ve probably been exposed to elevated levels of radon and didn’t even know it.

Growing up, I spent innumerable hours in our basement play/party room — often with family and friends — ignorant, but blissful. How much radon was I exposed to? I don’t know; No one knew to test. It was probably higher than I’d like to think about as our home was in an area with high radon potential.

Fortunately, when I bought my own home, I knew to test regardless of location. I may even vaguely remember that it was quickly mentioned during the sale. When I tested the lowest floor of my home, my result was 18 picocuries per liter of air of radon –—pretty far above EPA’s action level of 4 pCi/l. Since I spent very little time in the cellar — it’s really not a livable space — I measured on the first floor. It was right below 4 pCi/l. A lower number would have been better, but at least I’m under EPA’s action level.

Radon is one health risk we can all avoid and it’s simple. Test your home and fix the problem. Mitigating a radon problem costs about the same as other household repairs and this change can save your life.

Get information on radon and find information for your state radon office.

About the author:  Lou Witt, program analyst for the Center for Radon and Air Toxics, Indoor Environments Division.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Taking Action on Radon in Your School District? No Better Time than the Present!

By Jani Palmer

Three months ago I blogged to parents and teachers about opportunities for kids to participate in a radon poster contest to get their design on a T-shirt to celebrate National Radon Action Month. Responses were abundant, and let me tell you the posters being voted on as I blog are phenomenal! A T-shirt is a great way to raise awareness about indoor air quality bu the best way to protect against radon is to test. I used to work on indoor air quality in a school district, so I know about the only time to get something substantial done is during holiday breaks. I know it crept up on us, but the holidays are here, so what better time to test your school for radon than right now?

Radon control is as integral to school health as other IAQ management activities and fits right in with your IAQ Tools for Schools management activities. About half of our nation’s schools are deploying these activities, providing healthier learning environments fo about 27 million students and 2.5 million staff. If your school doesn’t use the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit, take a look at the graphic here from the kit that shows how an effective school IAQ program integrates planning, communicating and four other key drivers. Why not attend the 11th IAQ Tools for Schools National Symposium in January? Click here for information from the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit on how you can manage radon along with your other day-to-day IAQ duties.

Radon testing and mitigation don’t have to be scary topics, because radon is so easily identified and fixed. What is scary is that radon causes cancer. Testing is the only way to know if your building has radon, and knowing if your building has radon is the first step toward fixing it. Having trouble knowing where to start? Contact your state radon program for guidance through the process.

Across the country, school facilities staff are working hard to protect IAQ for students, teachers, and staff. If you know about a school district that’s doing a great job, be sure to congratulate them with a quick note below. Their dedication and perseverance to maintaining healthy building by fixing holes, changing ceiling tiles and testing rooms can make a huge difference in someone’s life, and for that, they deserve our thanks!

About the author: Jani Palmer is a Physical Scientist in the Indoor Environments Division. She has been in the indoor air quality and industrial hygiene field for 10 years providing environmental consulting and services for school districts, industry, and public agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

That’s My Daughter’s Radon Poster Design on the T-Shirt You’re Wearing!

I love T-shirts, but what I love even more is a T-shirt about radon, and what I love even more than that is seeing my daughter’s poster design about radon on a T-shirt. Each year, state radon programs have been supporting children, parents and teachers to do just that for the National Radon Poster Contest. The contest is cosponsored by EPA and Kansas State University. The contest is an artistic yet educational way to teach students about radon and its effects on our health. We all have much to learn about radon, and we can help spread awareness by wearing these unique T-shirts and pinning up those posters in our offices and buildings. Do you want to know how to get contest information?2010_participatingmap

The top three picks nationwide, their teacher or sponsor, and a parent or guardian win a trip to Washington D.C. The students will be honored in front of a huge crowd of supporters at the annual IAQ Tools for Schools Symposium held from January 13 to 15, 2011. I had the pleasure of attending the national award ceremony last year. As I watched the students walk up to the podium to receive their accolades, I remembered just how powerful and passionate a message becomes when we hear it from a child.

Check out past national winners and their posters in the below photo. Visit the website to see more winning posters, video and audio. Last year’s contest had submissions from 37 states totaling nearly 3,000 entries! That’s up more than 1,000 from the year before. Well done!poster-winners-2009_

Don’t think you’re getting off that easy because I have a challenge: Let’s get entries from all 50 states this year! Look at the map of the poster contest participation last year and let all our blog readers know when you challenge someone from one of those states in white to submit an entry. Come on Arkansas, Wyoming, Maine; I know you have at least one child age 9 to 14 who would love to take advantage of this huge opportunity to help save a life. Don’t let them miss it, and tell those kids to get their creativity on because the deadline is approaching – October 31. Some states have earlier deadlines, so check for additional information.

About the author: Jani Palmer is a Physical Scientist in the Indoor Environments Division. She has been in the indoor air quality and industrial hygiene field for 10 years providing environmental consulting and services for school districts, industry, and public agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

My Property Info

By Wendy Schumacher

Prior to relocating to Washington in 2007, I had to sell my home in Fort Collins, Colorado. The biggest challenge to marketing the property wasn’t the original1962 kitchen cabinets or the three feet of snow covering the beautiful drought tolerant garden, it was determining if radon was present and, if so, if the level was above acceptable limits.

In many states, sales contracts require that people selling property certify if the property is located in a flood plain or free from a variety of environmental hazards ranging from radon to lead paint. On the other hand, today’s buyers and their lenders want to know more. In fact, a large number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests submitted to EPA ask for records about a single property someone is considering buying or financing or because some states require certification that EPA does not have any information on the property. The FOIA process gives federal agencies 20 working days to respond. For this type of request, most of the time EPA does not have any record of the requestor’s potential new home or small business. That’s always good news!

To reduce the amount of time for requestors to obtain a response from days to minutes, on June 25, 2010, EPA released a web-based tool where it will be possible to search EPA’s databases for environmental information by an individual address and print it in a single report. The tool is called MyPropertyInfo.

The tool’s primary audience is expected to be real estate agents, mortgage banks and engineering and environmental consulting firms. That said, everyone around the office who has helped with testing this new tool has looked up their own and their Mom’s address, too.

Wouldn’t MyPropertyInfo have been useful during my time as the FOIA Officer in EPA’s Regional Office in Chicago! I’ll never forget being seated at a formal dinner next to a real estate attorney who wanted to know the status of his client’s proposed purchase of a former gas station before we even finished our salads.

About the author: Wendy Schumacher is on detail to the National FOIA Office from the Office of Water. Between assignments in EPA Region 5 and Headquarters, she spent six years with the National Park Service’s Natural Resource Program Center in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Radon Reflections at the Tools for Schools Symposium

January is National Radon Action Month, or NRAM. Read more about EPA’s radon activities and what others are doing to reduce their radon exposure.

Each year, EPA’s Indoor Environments Division hosts an indoor air quality, or IAQ, symposium in Washington D.C. This year’s 10th IAQ Tools for Schools National Symposium took place January 14 to 16 — during National Radon Action Month. As a scientist for EPA’s Center for Radon and Air Toxics, naturally I was delighted to have the opportunity to present radon information at the symposium.

Workgroup meeting at Indoor Air Quality SymposiumThis year’s symposium featured five school districts with specific IAQ design challenges. Each attendee played an integral role as a design team member, formulating strategies to help a school district improve IAQ management. As I interacted with teams, I discovered IAQ stakeholders in many forms: facilities managers, building technicians, nurses, principals, government and even parents. Despite their different roles, people were passionate for school health and worked together to produce excellent solutions in a short period of time.

Discussions about radon were abundant at the symposium. While sipping my latte, a man started a conversation about radon in his school district. He whispered as if it were a secret, “We build radon prevention right into our new school designs.” My eyes lit up so bright; I think I startled him, or maybe he thought I was going to hug him. The importance of preventing pollutants from entering a building is no secret; think about how vapor barriers, gutters and even window screens keep a number of pollutants safely out of the indoor environment.

I overheard someone say, “How will they know if they don’t test?” I smiled and shook my head vigorously in agreement. Clearly this person had just grasped how important it is to test for radon. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, three children were recognized during the National Radon Poster Contest awards luncheon, and EPA’s Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, touted the benefits of recognizing radon in school IAQ.

As I reflect on activities at the symposium, it’s clear that radon is certainly at the forefront of school IAQ management. My hope is that symposium attendees will share their reflections on the symposium here or blog about it on radonleaders.org. Please comment, reply and get your story out there.

About the Author: Jani Palmer is a Physical Scientist in the Indoor Environments Division. She has been in the indoor air quality and industrial hygiene field for 10 years providing environmental consulting and services for school districts, industry, and public agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

How Do You Market Behavior Change?

January is National Radon Action Month, or NRAM. Read more about EPA’s radon activities and what others are doing to reduce their radon exposure.

I was buying shampoo yesterday and was, for some reason, drawn to a particular brand I had never bought before. I didn’t realize why I was drawn to this particular product until later that day when I caught myself humming the jingle of the shampoo’s commercial on my walk home.

What influences you to change your behavior in your day to day life? An article? A friend’s message? A public official’s warning?

Our goal in public health marketing is changing individual’s behaviors, but influencing someone to test their home for radon can be challenging. Science has informed our thinking about radon. Now, we’re challenged to convey actionable messages to the public.

EPA and its partners have promoted radon awareness through a national media campaign. All of EPA’s public service announcements, or PSAs, are actually free for the public to download for TV, radio and print.

In 2001, the National Academy of Television, Arts, and Sciences bestowed a national Emmy Award to the PSA, “Take the National Radon Test: Man on the Street,” for raising awareness of the health effects of radon.

Because information from a trusted source often moves people to act, EPA developed a campaign around the Surgeon General’s Warning against radon. Similarly, the National Conference for State Legislatures works with other partners to air state legislator’s messages on local radio stations during NRAM 2010. Last year, 154 legislators urged their constituents to test their homes for radon through these PSAs.

EPA has also bundled the radon message with other environmental movements to reach the public in new ways. For example, radon is now part of a larger green campaign to sock it to radon. EPA also sponsored a YouTube video contest to promote the message: “Radon. Test. Fix. Save a Life.” The winning entry, Eddie’s Story, can be found on our Website.

EPA’s radon marketing efforts are expanding to reach a variety of audiences, but there is always room to grow. What is science without an actionable message? What have you done to influence individual behavior change through public messaging?

About the author: Rebecca L. Reindel, MFS, is an Association of Schools of Public Health Environmental Health Fellow in the Indoor Environments Division, part of the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air. She is completing her Master’s Degree in Public Health at the George Washington University. She holds a Master’s in Forensic Toxicology and has previously addressed workplace exposures for taxi drivers and was an instructor at GWU.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Kids, Creativity and the National Radon Poster Contest

January is National Radon Action Month, or NRAM. Read more about EPA’s radon activities and what others are doing to reduce their radon exposure.

Two months ago, I helped judge the 2010 National Radon Poster Contest.

What amazed me most was the amount of creativity in the posters submitted by children, aged 9 to 14. Several times I assumed I was staring at an entry from a junior high student and it turned out to be from a fourth grader … a fourth grader! It gave me a great opportunity to appreciate children as messengers for environmental causes. The amount of poster entries this year was incredible: 216 schools in 36 states, one U.S. territory and seven tribal nations created a total of 2,862 posters!

Creators of the winning 2010 posters are being recognized today at the Indoor Air Quality Tools for School Symposium in Washington, D.C. The national first place winner is pictured in this column and you can find posters for all national, state, territorial and tribal nation winners here. Posters were judged on criteria set by the National Safety Council, Kansas State University, and Environmental Protection Agency, co-sponsors of the 2010 contest.

It’s important to get children involved early with simple messages. Some messages we stress through the Radon Poster contest are:

  • Radon is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless.
  • Radon is a radioactive gas that can reach harmful levels if trapped indoors.
  • Radon comes from the soil underneath your home.
  • Radon causes lung cancer.

Simple messages to children inspire adults to take action. Our action message is clear, “Test. Fix. Save a life.” That is, test for radon in your home, school and other buildings; fix existing radon problems; and build new homes to be radon resistant.

Kansas State University’s National Radon Program will co-sponsor upcoming radon poster contests. Get involved! Promote the National Radon Poster Contest at your school. Organize a local awards ceremony to honor the winner selected by your school, community or state. Contact your state radon program to get started.

Children play key roles as messengers. They are our radon, and environmental, advocates of the future.

About the Author: Rebecca L. Reindel, MFS, is an Association of Schools of Public Health Environmental Health Fellow in the Indoor Environments Division, part of the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air. She is completing her Master’s Degree in Public Health at the George Washington University. She holds a Master’s in Forensic Toxicology, has previously addressed workplace exposures for taxi drivers and is an instructor at GWU.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.