Radon: What is it and what are the risks?

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Public Schools announced Wednesday night that high levels of radon were found in 6 schools.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that seeps up from the ground and can affect indoor air quality.

Radon is everywhere and depending on where you live, you could be at a higher risk for exposure. Portland State geologist Dr. Scott Burns says the concern is legitimate.

“We do not want to have our kids and the staff at the schools working in environments that the values are high,” Burns said.

The gas is invisible and odorless — the only way to know it’s there is to test for it.

“So we’re all exposed to it all the time,” said Narda Sherman, a physician’s assistant at Legacy GoHealth. “The question is to how much were exposed.”

North Portland tends to have higher levels of radon due to the geological makeup there.

Sherman says radon is the second most common cause of lung cancer after smoking.

“We do know that there’s an association to breathing in radon and developing lung cancer,” Sherman said.

Burns says everyone should test their house.

“It’s so cheap,” he said. “Maybe every 5 years it would be good to go in and retest.”

Plans are in the works now for Portland schools to bring radon levels down, but Sherman wants parents to keep in mind kids don’t spend all their time at school.

“I think at this point, we will serve our children better by having our own home tested where they spend most of their time than being too concerned by radon exposure in the schools,” Sherman said.

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