SPRINGFIELD — Parents shopping for day care now have one new item on their safety checklists — radon levels.
An Illinois law that took effect Jan. 1 requires day-care centers to begin testing for and posting levels of radon, an odorless radioactive gas released by the decay of naturally occurring uranium in the soil.
Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and the leading cause among nonsmokers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency estimates that statewide about 1,200 people die of radon-related lung cancer each year.
Under the new law, non-residential day-care centers must hire an state-licensed radon measurement professional to test their buildings. Home day-care centers can hire a licensed contractor or use a home test kit to conduct the test themselves.
Day-care centers must test for radon at least once every three years, and beginning Jan. 1, 2014, centers must show proof of the test when they apply for or seek renewal of their day-care license.
The law also requires day-care centers to post their most current radon measurements next to their licenses. The centers must provide copies of the reports to parents who request one.
The law does not require the centers to reduce their radon levels, but the Emergency Management Agency recommends that they do so if levels are above the EPA’s “action level,” which is 4.0 picocuries per liter of air.
“Parents want to know their children in day care are as safe as possible throughout the day,” Emergency Management Agency Director Jonathon Monken said in a prepared statement. “This new law will give them information about radon levels in the day care and hopefully will inspire them to also test their own homes if they haven’t already done so.”
Patrick Daniels, Emergency Management Agency radon program manager, said he hopes the new day-care law reminds parents to test their own homes because children generally spend more time there.
“Your real risk is at home,” Daniels said Tuesday.
The Emergency Management Agency has data on 200,000 Illinois homes tested for radon. Roughly one-third had radon levels higher than the EPA action level, Daniels said.
Elevated radon levels are found in every Illinois county, although levels generally are somewhat higher in the northern half of the state and lower in southern half. Glacial ice that once covered most of Illinois brought soil with bits of uranium, spread very unevenly. Levels can vary even on a single residential lot, Daniels said.
Not only are soil uranium levels quite variable, how radon gas gets trapped in a house varies greatly. The house’s foundation type does not necessarily determine radon levels. Other factors include air pressure and movement.
Daniels said the only way to know a home’s radon level is to test it, and some test kits cost as little as $10.
The new day-care law is section 225 Illinois Compiled Statutes 10/5.8.
For more information about radon testing, see the “looking for a low-cost test kit?” button on the Illinois Emergency Management Agency’s radon website — www.radon.Illinois.gov — or call the Radon Hotline at 800-325-1245.