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Radon Sampling & Mitigation Program

Purpose

To develop an ongoing radon sampling and mitigation program for Lehigh University’s academic, administrative, and residential buildings. This program will be coordinated by Environmental Health & Safety, Facilities Services, and Residential Services.

Lehigh University - Radon Team

Dr. Barbra A. PlohockiDirector, Environmental Health and Safety
Gary FalascaDirector, Facilities Services
Ozzie BreinerDirector, Residential Services

The team will meet one (1) time per semester to develop a sampling plan for campus, review radon test results, and schedule professional radon mitigation for campus areas/buildings (if required).

Radon Quick Reference Q&A

Review our quick reference, common questions and answers [pdf].

Radon Testing Protocol

Radon will be tested in all university buildings on an ongoing basis. After the initial test period, retesting will be conducted in buildings on a periodic basis described further below.

The Lehigh University testing protocol will be as follows:
Radon will be tested in all new construction after four (4) months. If the first test comes in < 4, retesting will be done after a year when settling has had enough time to take place.

Radon will be tested in areas that have been renovated and meet the following criteria:

  • Replacement of the HVAC system.
  • Excavation on the ground floor of the building.
  • Any interior building condition that would affect air movement or create a chimney effect within a building (Ex. Adding an elevator to a building).

NOTE: Testing will be conducted PRIOR to and AFTER a significant ground floor building renovation (Ex. moving walls, installing and/or removing supply and return diffusers, etc.).

The testing will be conducted on the ground floor of each building in random locations. The rooms selected will be occupied, ground contact rooms. If a building is three (3) stories or higher and has an elevator, canisters will also be placed on the top floor near the elevator shaft to account for a possible "chimney effect".

In buildings or areas where permanent radon mitigation systems have been installed, these systems will be functioning during the measurement period.

Short-term radon testing lasting two or three days will not be conducted if severe storms with high winds (< 25 MPH) or rapidly changing barometric pressures are indicated during the measurement period.

The canister will be placed in a location where it will not be disturbed during the measurement period and where there is adequate room for the device. An attempt will be made to place the canister where it will not be near drafts caused by HVAC system vents, doors, fans, and windows. Locations near excessive heat, such as fireplaces or in direct sunlight, and areas of high humidity will also be avoided.

If there is evidence the canister was disturbed, (found in another location, turned on its side, etc.) it will be marked and sent back to A.B.E. Radiation Measurements Laboratory. This canister will not be analyzed and a new canister will be used for sampling in the same location.

Radon testing will be conducted during all seasons of the year. Radon sampling will be conducted on weekdays with the HVAC system operating normally in each tested area.

Radon Testing Result Analysis

  1. After the initial test period, if a building is below 4 PCi/L, this building will be retested every 3-5 years. If possible, canisters will be placed in different locations on the ground floor during the follow-up test period.
  2. After the initial test period, if a building is above 4 pCi/L, the building will be retested using a charcoal canister within four (4) months of the initial test period. If the second (2nd) result is elevated, the area will be tested a third (3rd) time using a charcoal canister. An attempt will be made to test these areas during different seasons of the year to account for outdoor weather conditions and student residential occupancy.

    After the third (3rd) set of data is evaluated and averaged, a decision by the Radon Team (with input from Tony LaMastra, Health Physics Consultant) will determine which areas/rooms, if any, require professional remediation. A list of radon mitigation contractors can be found in the appendix of this program. These areas will be submitted to Facilities Services and remediated as soon as possible.

EPA does not recommend buildings use a single short-term test as the basis for determining whether or not action needs to be taken to reduce radon levels. A follow-up measurement to confirm an initial short-term measurement of 4 pCI/L or higher should be conducted before making such a decision. Indoor radon levels depend upon a number of variables and can fluctuate significantly from day to day. Short-term tests (tests of 2-5 days) may in some cases reflect an unusual peak in the radon concentration thus indicating a need for remedial action which may not be necessary. In addition, EPA studies have shown that the averaging of two or more short-term measurements reduces the possibility of misrepresenting the average radon concentration.

NOTE: There are many residential locations throughout Lehigh in which the indoor radon level is directly affected by student occupancy. In some cases, three (3) of the radon levels are so different they cannot be averaged to determine whether or not there is need for radon mitigation. In these cases, Tony LaMastra, Health Physics Consultant, suggests further testing during different seasons of the year to determine if there is a pattern in the radon levels and if radon mitigation is required. These areas will be discussed with the Radon Team at regularly scheduled meetings. After reviewing the radon sampling data, Tony LaMastra (with input from the Radon Team) will recommend if radon mitigation is required in these areas.

Radon Facts

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It comes from the natural decay of uranium which is found in soil and rock throughout the United States. Radon travels through soil and enters buildings through cracks and holes in the foundation. Eventually, it decays into radioactive particles (decay products) that can become trapped in the lungs. As these particles decay, they release small bursts of radiation. This radiation can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of a lifetime.

EPA studies have found that radon concentrations in the outdoor air average about 0.5 picocuries per liter (pCi/L)*. However, radon and its decay products can accumulate to much higher concentrations inside a building. Radon is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. The only way to know whether or not an elevated level of radon is present in any room or building is to conduct testing.

EPA recommends reducing the concentration of radon in the air within a building to below EPA's radon action level of 4pCi/L. EPA believes that any radon exposure carries some risk – no level of radon is safe. Even radon levels lower than 4 pCi/L pose some risk, and the risk of lung cancer can be reduced by lowering radon levels. This action level is based largely on the ability of current technologies to reduce elevated radon levels less than 4 pCi/l.

Definitions:

Curie: A unit of radioactivity equal to 3.7 times 1010 disintegrations per second.

Picocurie: A picocurie is one million millionth, or a trillionth, of a curie, and represents about 2.2 radioactive particle disintegrations per minute.

Radon Entry Into Buildings

Many factors contribute to the entry of radon gas into a building. The following factors determine why some buildings have elevated radon levels and other do not:

  • The concentration of radon in the soil gas (source strength) and permeability of the soil (gas mobility) under the building.
  • The structure and construction of the building.
  • The type, operation, and maintenance of the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.

Other building features, such as the presence of a basement area, crawl spaces, utility tunnels, sub slab HVAC ducts, cracks, or other penetrations in the slab (e.g. around pipes) also provide areas for radon to enter indoor spaces.

Radon Sampling Device and Sampling Period

Radon tests detect either radon gas directly or the daughter products of radon’s radioactive decay. There are two categories of radon test devices, passive and active. Passive devices include charcoal canisters, charcoal liquid scintillation detectors, alpha track detectors, and electret ion detectors. Lehigh University will utilize charcoal canisters for campus testing. The canisters will be exposed for a sampling period of 48 hours.

Photo of a Charcoal Canister
  • Charcoal canister (pictured right and charcoal liquid scintillation devices absorb radon or its products onto the charcoal. In the laboratory, the radioactive particles emitted from the charcoal are counted directly by a sodium iodide counter or converted to light in a liquid scintillation medium and counted in a scintillation detector.

If there is a need for long-term testing, Tony LaMastra, Health Physics Consultant, will assist in selecting the long-term sampling device and developing a sampling protocol.

Lehigh University Radon Resources

Health Physics Consultant

Tony LaMastra - Certified Health Physicist

A.B.E. Radiation Measurements Laboratory
Division of Health Physics Associates, Inc.
P.O. Box 214
Lenhartsville, PA 19534
Phone: (610) 756-4153
Fax: (610)756-0042

Radon Mitigation Contractors

Bill Brodhead Radon Repairs
2844 Slifer Valley Road
Riegelsville, PA 18077
Phone: (610) 346-8004

TA (Tim) Musser
Radon Remediations, Inc.

213 North 14th Street
Allentown, PA 18012
Phone: 610-433-6380
Fax: 610-533-6033



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