ST. PAUL, Minn. – “It’s a simple test, it’s an inexpensive test and something we can easily address to protect ourselves at home and protect our children at school,” said Representative Anne Claflin (DFL – South St Paul) as she introduced a bill to require radon testing in Minnesota schools.
Radon testing was one of the school safety initiatives discussed during “Health and Safety in Our Schools Day” at the state capitol.
The bill to mandate testing was introduced in the wake of a KARE 11 investigation last year that discovered just 53 of 331 districts across the state have tested classrooms for radon since 2012, despite recommendations by both state and federal health officials for testing to be conducted at least once every five years.
“This (radon) is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers,” Claflin said.
Radon is an odorless, colorless gas, that is a known carcinogen blamed every year for more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths nationwide.
In Minnesota, 80 percent of counties are listed as radon hot zones.
Rep. Claflin’s bill, and its companion in the Senate, would establish more rigorous and regular radon testing requirements for all of Minnesota's public schools. Currently it is just a recommendation.
KARE 11’s investigation found wide disparities as to whether, when and how the 20 largest school districts in the Twin Cities metro area are testing their buildings for radon. The investigation also revealed that schools in the counties with highest known concentrations of radon are not regularly tested, if at all.
“It’s important to know for those schools that did not test for radon - why they didn’t?” said Rep. Dean Urdahl (R– Grove City)
“I would say its funding,” said Denise Dittrich with the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA).
Dittrich said MSBA is not opposed to the proposed radon testing mandate but has questions about how it will be paid for.
“We are also asking to make sure that the testing is funded,” Dittrich said, “so that this is not money that needs to come out of the classroom.”
The proposed legislation in both the House and Senate would fund radon testing as part of school districts already existing a 10-year facilities maintenance plans.
“As far as costs is concerned, school districts as government entities are eligible to purchase test kits for $4.56 each,” said Dan Tranter who oversees the state Health Department’s indoor air quality unit.
If radon is found, Tranter told lawmakers it can often be easily fixed. “Many schools can fix radon by adjusting the existing HVAC,” he testified.
Representative Peggy Scott (R-Andover) wanted to know how often radon is found in schools that do test.
Tranter said current MDH data shows 12 percent of school buildings that have been tested have had one or more rooms with radon levels above the EPA action level.
“It’s clearly an issue and one that’s easily solved,” said Rep Claflin. She was asked to gather more information about funding the mandate before the committee votes on it.
KARE 11 asked Governor Tim Walz’s office if he supported the call for mandatory testing. We were told he does, and the Governor issued the following statement:
“As a dad and a former teacher, I know the only thing parents should worry about when their children head to school in the morning is whether or not they finished their homework. I’m currently working with the legislature to ensure every aspect of our schools—including the air quality—is held to the highest standard of safety for students all across Minnesota.”
If passed, the new law would go into effect for the 2020 school year.
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