Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Vermont Schools Continue To Pass On Free Radon Testing

Howard Weiss-Tisman
Michelle Thompson with the Department of Health sets up a radon test at The Dorset School.

The Department of Health has offered free radon tests for any school in Vermont since 2001, but so far less than one third of the schools have tested their air.

Of the schools that have been tested so far about 14 percent had levels of radon above the EPA action level.

Radon is a gas that occurs naturally, but it's dangerous when it builds  up. It can cause lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Vermont.

The Health Department made an extra push this year to get more schools to do the testing.

Traditionally, letters went out to principals. But this year, the state contacted school boards. Michelle Thompson, a public health industrial hygienist with the Health Department, says 11 new schools will be tested this winter.

But that still means that a majority of the schools in Vermont will not have their air tested for radon this year.

“I think maybe there’s just a lot of other competing priorities and this is something that’s a voluntary thing,” Thompson said. “So we have a lot of really good, proactive schools that jump on board, but not as many schools as we’d like to see.”

At the Neshobe Elementary School in Brandon, the administration is currently addressing a radon issue.

Earlier this year the health department discovered radon around the building was more than double the EPA action level. Work is underway to mitigate the gas.

Kristen Carr has two kids at Neshobe Elementary School. She said some parents have been pushing back on whether it’s safe to have the students at school until the mitigation work is done.

"There are a group of people that are really concerned about radon being present at the school,” said Carr. “And then I think there are people like me who are like, well they’re doing everything we can. It’s a naturally occurring gas You know, it’s everywhere and I think it’s always good to know what you’re getting into and what you’re exposing your kids to.”

"It is a huge public health issue,” said Chitendon County Sen. Ginny Lyons, who introduced a bill last year to make the testing mandatory. “Wherever’s there radon, kids, and teachers who work in the schools, can ended up with lung cancer and we would like to prevent that.”

Lyons' bill never got out of committee, and she wonders if school boards are hesitating because of what it might cost to fix the problem if radon is detected.

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
The state offers free radon testing, but even if schools do their own testing it's not expensive. About 14 percent of the schools that have been tested for radon needed remediation.

But mitigation, which often involves adjusting ventilation systems, usually costs only a few thousand dollars.

A survey done last year found that 91 percent of the parents who were asked about radon wanted their kids’ schools tested.

And a Joint Fiscal Office report says it would cost Vermont a little more than half-a-million dollars to do a first round of tests at every school.


Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
Latest Stories