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Grand Forks receives grant for radon education in schools

GRAND FORKS -- The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Reinvestment Fund is supporting health care officials, educators and community leaders in Grand Forks who will work to address the risk of developing radon-induced lung cancer by creating an e...

GRAND FORKS -- The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Reinvestment Fund is supporting health care officials, educators and community leaders in Grand Forks who will work to address the risk of developing radon-induced lung cancer by creating an education program for children.

The goal is to raise awareness of the cancer-causing gas so more people will test for it and mitigate the problem if levels are too high, University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences professor Gary Schwartz said.

"Radon is really an invisible but very real health hazard for North Dakotans, and a lot of people don't know anything about it," he said.

Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that is produced by decaying uranium in the earth. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., according to the according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The average outdoor radon level is 0.4 picocuries per liter of air. An indoor level of 2 pCi/L is a health risk, and anything 4 pCi/L or higher is a health hazard, but 63 percent of homes in the state have radon levels of 4 pCI/L or higher, according to the state Department of Health.

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"It's nobody's fault. It's just the way Lake Agassiz is and how geography works," Schwartz said.

For the next year and a half, the team will use a $60,000 grant to consult with experts and develop educational programming for implementation in Grand Forks schools.

Schwartz said specific schools haven't been selected, but the programming will most likely be created for middle school students.

"At the more practical level, if kids learn about radon and go home and say, 'Hey, Mom and Dad, if we send an email, we can get a free radon test kit,' it will help spread awareness," he said.

The Grand Forks project is part of Invest Health, in which $3 million was awarded across 50 cities in 31 states from Reinvestment Fund and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. More than 180 teams from 170 communities applied.

Visit the North Dakota Department of Health website for information on how to obtain a free radon test kit.

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