What is radon and what can child care facilities do about it?

 by Brendan Doyle, Public Health Inspections Division, Department of Environmental Health, City & County of Denver

Brendan Doyle, City & County of Denver

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. It is invisible, odorless, and tasteless and can enter homes and buildings through small openings or cracks in the foundation. Radon can be found in any building, but private residences are the most concerning because that is where we spend most of our time.

Radon Can Cause Cancer

Radon breaks down into radioactive particles that can cause cancer when inhaled over a long period of time. These radioactive particles can damage the cells in our lungs and increase the risk of lung cancer. In fact, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and is responsible for approximately 21,000 deaths each year. There is no safe level of radon exposure, and the only way to know if your home or place of work has high radon levels is to test.

Anybody who has been exposed to radon long-term has at least some risk of developing lung cancer. Lower radon levels in your home, school, or other buildings means a lower risk. However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the majority of counties in Colorado are designated as a Radon Zone 1, meaning that the predicted average indoor radon test in a home exceeds the recommended action level for radon mitigation. In Colorado, approximately one-half of the homes have levels in excess of the recommended action level.

Testing Your Child Care Center for Radon

Although you are more likely to be exposed to radon long term in your private residence, buildings where you work and spend significant time can also pose a potential health risk for elevated levels of radon. In January 2016, The Rules and Regulations Governing the Health and Sanitation of Child Care Facilities in Colorado were revised to include mandatory radon testing by May 1, 2017 for all existing facilities, or six months after the date of occupancy for newly constructed facilities that were licensed after January 14, 2016. The requirement for radon testing does NOT apply to programs that are not building-based, such as mobile school-age child care programs or in-home programs, although we highly recommend that you test anyway, given the fact that you and the children in your care spend a significant amount of time in your home.

Elevated Levels of Radon are Identified, Now What?

If your facility is found to have elevated radon levels after initial testing, it is recommended that you re-test the identified areas. A re-test is not a requirement of the new child care regulation, only a recommendation. You may consider reaching out to the Denver Environmental Health Department or the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for more guidance on radon,  and whether or not to consider mitigation in your building if elevated levels are detected.

Finally, the Denver Department of Environmental Health will be presenting at the Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Conference in Denver on March 17th, and again at Denver’s Early Childhood Council on March 23rd. FREE radon testing kits will be provided to all participants at the March 23rd presentation.

If you are a licensed facility in Denver County and have not yet had your building tested, come to one of our upcoming presentations on how to test for radon yourself, or sign up to have your facility tested free of charge through our department. Contact me directly at brendan.doyle@denvergov.org if you have additional questions.

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