Schools

image of radon house How does radon get into schools?

Radon can enter a school building from the ground through small cracks in floors and through gaps around pipes or cables. Radon gas can be sucked from the ground into a school building because the indoor air pressure is usually slightly lower than outside. The reason for this is that warmer indoor air rises, resulting in slightly lower pressure indoors. Outdoors radon is diluted to very low levels.

What level of radon is acceptable in a school?

Since schools are workplaces, the national Reference Level for radon in workplaces applies (400 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3) measured over a 3 month period), which is specified by law in S.I. 125 of 2000. Radon levels in all rooms should be less than 400 Bq/m3. More information about radon in the workplace is available on this website.

The Department of Education and Skills set an advisory reference level of 200 Bq/m3 for schools in 1998. This is the same as the Reference Level for radon in homes. These two Reference Levels are applied as follows:

  • Remedial work is required for any occupied classroom or office where the radon levels are greater than 200 Bq/m3.
  • Following remedial work, if the radon level is between 200 Bq/m3 and 400 Bq/m3 then no further remedial work is recommended unless an additional reduction in radon can be achieved at minimal cost.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It has no taste, colour or smell. It is formed in the ground by the radioactive decay of uranium which is present in all rocks and soils. You cannot see it, smell it or taste it. It can only be measured with special detectors.

The World Health Organisation has categorised radon as a carcinogen, in the same group as asbestos and tobacco smoke. In Ireland, up to 250 cases of lung cancer each year are linked to exposure to radon. There is a synergistic effect between radon and tobacco smoke. This means that smokers are at much greater risk of developing radon related lung cancer than non-smokers.There is no scientific evidence linking radon with any other types of respiratory illnesses or other cancers.

Outside radon is diluted to very low levels. Radon can enter a school from the ground through small cracks in floors and through gaps around pipes or cables. Schools in some parts of the country are more likely to have a radon problem. These parts of the country are called High Radon Areas. You can check our interactive map to see whether your school is in a High Radon Area.

The acceptable level, or Reference Level, for schools, is 200 Bq/m3.

My Health

image of radon lungs Over a long period of time, exposure to radon can increase your risk of developing lung cancer. Radon produces tiny radioactive particles. When they are inhaled these particles can be deposited in the airways and result in a radiation dose to your lungs. There is a synergistic effect between radon and lung cancer. This means that smokers are at much greater risk of developing radon related lung cancer than non-smokers. 

The risk of developing radon related lung cancer

Your risk of contracting lung cancer from exposure to radon depends on:

  • how much radon you have been exposed to
  • how long you have been exposed to this level of radon
  • whether or not you are a smoker (smokers are at 25 times more risk from radon than non-smokers)

Learn More

To find out more read our radon and your health leaflet

My School

Between 1998 and 2002, on behalf of the Department of Education, all schools in the free education system were invited to be tested for radon. 38,531 ground floor classrooms and offices were tested for radon in this survey. All schools with radon levels above 200 Bq/m3 were successfully remediated. For more information on the results of this survey read the full report.

How do I find the radon results for my local school?

Following the survey a report of the radon results was issued to each school. To obtain a copy of these results, please contact the school directly for these results.

When should a school be retested?

If the radon results for one or more rooms in the school were above 400 Bq/m3, it is likely that the school was remediated through the installation of an active sump system. In this case, it is recommended that the school is retested every 5 years and that the fan used with this system is serviced in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions (usually every 5 years).

If the radon results for one or more rooms were between 200 and 400 Bq/m3, it is likely that these rooms were remediated by fitting air vents and /or passive sumps to improve ventilation. In this case, retesting is not required; however, vents and pipework serving passive sumps should be checked on a regular basis to ensure that they have not been blocked up or damaged.

For all schools, retesting is recommended when significant building work has been carried out on the school. For example, work such as replacing windows, replacing the central heating system or insulating the school may result in changes to ventilation patterns with consequent changes in radon levels. Likewise, if an extension has been added to the school, the new rooms should be tested for radon.

My Responsibility

The school Principal, along with the Board of Management, has responsibility for ensuring that students and staff are not exposed to radon levels greater than the Reference Level.

Most schools have already been tested for radon. Where results were below the Reference Level it is not necessary to retest unless significant building work has been carried out on the building. For example, work such as replacing windows, replacing the central heating system or insulating the school may result in changes to ventilation patterns with consequent changes in radon levels. Likewise, if an extension has been added to the school, the new rooms should be tested for radon. Please contact the Devolved and Rental Payments Section of the Department of Education and Skills to arrange for a radon retest to be carried out in your school.

When your school was tested, if the radon results for one or more rooms in the school were above 400 Bq/m3, it is likely that the school was remediated through the installation of an active sump system. In this case, it is recommended that the school is retested every 5 years and that the fan used with this system is serviced in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions (usually every 5 years). Please contact the Devolved and Rental Payments Section of the Department of Education and Skills to arrange for a radon retest to be carried out in your school.

When your school was tested, if the radon results for one or more rooms were between 200 and 400 Bq/m3, it is likely that these rooms were remediated by fitting air vents and /or passive sumps to improve ventilation. In this case, retesting is not required; however, vents and pipework serving passive sumps should be checked on a regular basis to ensure that they have not been blocked up or damaged.

If your school has not been tested, please contact the Devolved and Rental Payments Section of the Department of Education and Skills to arrange for a radon test to be carried out in your school. The Department will then contact the EPA Office of Radiological Protection and request that the required numbers of detectors are issued to the school.

The Department of Education currently fund radon testing work and any remediation work required.

Testing for Radon

image of radon detector A radon test is carried out by placing a small detector, about the size of a matchbox, in every occupied ground floor classroom and office for three months (it is not necessary to test corridors, bathrooms or storage areas). After three months, when the detectors are posted back to the laboratory, they are analysed to see how much radon they have been exposed to. A copy of the results will then be sent to both your school and the Department of Education and Skills. Where radon levels are above 200 Bq/m3, remedial work should be carried out.

Please contact the Devolved Grants Section of the Department of Education and Skills to arrange for a radon test or re-test to be carried out in your school. The Department will then contact the EPA Office of Radiological Protection and request that the required numbers of detectors are issued to the school.

The Department of Education and Skills will fund this testing work and any remediation work required.

Reducing High Levels

The Department of Education and Skills set an advisory reference level of 200 Bq/m3 for schools in 1998. This is the same as the Reference Level for radon in homes. In addition, since schools are workplaces, the national Reference Level for radon in workplaces applies (400 Bq/m3 ). This Reference Level is specified by law in S.I. 125 of 2000. These two Reference Levels are applied as follows:

  • Remedial work is required for any occupied classroom or office where the radon levels are greater than 200 Bq/m3.
  • Following remedial work, if the radon level is between 200 Bq/m3 and 400 Bq/m3 then no further remedial work is recommended unless an additional reduction in radon can be achieved at minimal cost.

There are a number of simple ways to reduce radon levels. The best method for your school depends on the radon levels in your school and the building type. Your contractor, will advise you about the best solution for your building.

Our video will provide some guidance on how to fix a home or other building with high radon levels.

Following remediation, it is important to re-test each of the rooms that tested above 200 Bq/m3 to ensure that this work has been successful in reducing radon in each of these rooms to below 400 Bq/m3 and ideally, below 200 Bq/m3. The remediation methods most commonly used are summarised here:

image of vents Improving indoor ventilation

One of the simplest ways to dilute moderate levels of radon is to increase the indoor ventilation by installing wall vents or window trickle vents. This can reduce radon levels in your school by up to 50%. It is important that increased ventilation is installed at ground level only as additional ventilation on upper floors may increase the flow of radon from the ground into your school. This work usually costs in the region of a few hundred euro.

Improving under-floor ventilation (for schools with suspended floors)

If your school has a suspended floor you can also reduce the amount of radon entering the building by increasing the sub-floor ventilation. Clearing or replacing existing sub-floor vents or installing additional vents or airbricks will increase the flow of air below the floor and so reduce the amount of radon entering your school. This work usually costs in the region of a few hundred euro.

Installing a passive sump

For radon levels up to 400 Bq/m3, a passive sump can reduce radon levels by up to 50%. A passive sump is a sump system that works without the action of a fan. Instead, wind action over the top of the sump-pipe (which often is fitted with a rotating vane or ventilator) draws radon up through the sump system.

image of subfloor vent

image of subfloor vent active

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

image of passive sump Installing an active radon sump

The most effective and most commonly used way of reducing the flow of radon into your school is by installing an active radon sump. A radon sump is a cavity about the size of a bucket immediately under the floor slab that is linked by pipe work to the outside. The radon rich air coming from the ground is drawn out from under the floor slab by a small electric fan in the pipeline and vented to outside before it is drawn into your home.  An active radon sump can usually be installed in one day and all the work is carried out from outside your school.The work typically costs about €925, but this can range from €400 to €1500, depending on the complexity of the work. The annual running cost of the fan depends on the power of the fan used. The running costs range from about €30 using a 14 watt fan to about €150 for a 70 watt fan. Typically an active sump can reduce radon levels by about 90% but this may range from 60% to 99%.

 

 

Following remediation

image of active sump with fan at ground level All remediated areas must be retested to ensure the work has successfully reduced radon to below below 400 Bq/m3 and ideally, below 200 Bq/m3. Normally remediation is successful at the first attempt. However, sometimes more work is needed to reduce the radon levels to below the Reference Level.The remediation systems must be properly maintained to ensure they remain effective at minimising the radon build-up within the school. For active sump systems it is important to ensure the fan is maintained and it is also important to ensure that passive ventilation systems remain clear from debris.

The EPA recommends that schools that have tested above 200 Bq/m3 should be retested every 5 years.

image of active sump added and outlet at eaves

Radon Prevention

If your School was built after 1st July 1998, the building regulations require that it is fitted with a standby radon sump. This is simple pipe work that extends from under the foundations into the outdoor air. If high radon levels are measured, the standby sump can be activated by adding a fan. It should be noted that a standby sump that has not been activated by adding a fan does not reduce radon levels in your school.

 

image of standby sump

For schools built in High Radon Areas the installation of a radon barrier as well as a standby sump is required. The installation of these protective measures is not a guarantee that radon levels will be below the Reference Level. This is why it is important that all schools are tested for radon.

In recent years, the Department of Education and Skills has required that all new schools, in both high and low risk areas, are installed with a radon barrier.


image of radon membrane

Radon Services

Assuring the quality of work provided by radon testing services

To ensure that radon testing services offer accurate and consistent results the National Radon Control Strategy recommended that a registration scheme be developed.

The EPA is currently rolling out this registration scheme, which requires radon testing services to participate in proficiency testing, show compliance with criteria such as testing procedures, quality standards, the standard of information provided to customers and legal compliance matters. Further details are available in this guidance document and registration form.

The registration scheme will be finalised in early 2017 and the list of registered testing companies available on this website.

How do I choose a testing company now?

The EPA provides an accredited radon testing service. The EPA also provides a list of other radon testing companies.

This list is provided for information only. At present, the EPA does not approve, authorise or otherwise recommend the services provided by other radon testing companies.

To determine whether the radon levels in a workplace exceed the Reference Level the Regulations require that the test should be carried out over a minimum period of three months. For homes a minimum three month measurement is also recommended by the EPA. For these measurements, the use of passive detectors is generally the most cost effective and the most straightforward approach.

Assuring the quality of work provided by remediation contractors

To ensure that the remediation contractors listed on any Government website are sufficiently qualified and experienced to carry out remediation work, the National Radon Control Strategy recommended that a registration scheme be developed.

Contractor registration will include a number of requirements including attendance at a training course on remediation, followed by a successful assessment, meeting a number of other criteria including adherence to a code of practice, tax compliance, appropriate insurance, etc. This training couse has been rolled out in 2016 and the registration scheme will be finalised in late 2016.  Following this, the register of contractors will be available on this website.

How do I choose a remediation contractor now?

At present, the EPA provides a list of remediation contractors for information only. The EPA does not approve, authorise or otherwise recommend the services provided by the contractors listed.

Classroom Tools

This animation shows how easy it is to do a radon test.

This animation shows how easy it is to reduce radon levels in a building.

Download the EPA’s Science and Technology in Action online lesson on Radioactivity in the Environment.