Roughly 70 percent of a small number of schools tested for radon have been found to have elevated levels of the gas in some part of the building, a Unit 5 investigation revealed.
The state of Illinois started a pilot radon testing program in January, but so far only 41 out of 4,450 schools have applied for grant money and have been tested. The potential danger at the remaining schools remains unknown.
"They’re typically very easy to fix," said Patrick Daniels, state radon officer at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. "But the only way to discover those problems is to actually test."
Radon is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, occurring naturally as the decay product of uranium or thorium.
But the gas has been directly linked to lung cancer, as Glen Ellyn's Barbara Sorgatz found out a few years ago.
"Some people still aren’t convinced. They’re thinking, 'Oh it can’t happen to me. It can’t happen to me,' and you know what, it can happen to you," said Sorgatz, one of the members of CanSAR, the Cancer Survivors Against Radon.
Sorgatz went to the ER with chest pains six years ago and, despite never smoking, later learned she had lung cancer. A radon kit she purchased revealed her home of 23 years had radon levels about five times higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard, making her home the likely cause of her disease.
Officials also found the homes near hers all tested at a level that required mitigation systems to expel the gas.
Sorgatz later had about 20 percent of her lung removed and has since become an advocate for radon awareness.
More than 20,000 people die each year from cancer caused by radon, CanSAR said.