Student research produces immediate results

For immediate release: Jan. 19, 2016

BLOOMSBURG — BU undergraduates delve into research to gain valuable experience with an eye toward attending graduate school or beginning their professional careers. Recently, student researchers also provided an immediate benefit for their fellow students who reside in Mount Olympus Apartments (MOA) on the upper campus.

Students majoring in physics and engineering technology tested indoor radon levels in campus buildings in fall 2015, a new direction for a project that traditionally has offered radon testing canisters to faculty and staff at minimal cost for use in their homes. The result of the students’ on-campus research, shared during the College of Science and Technology Research and Scholarship Day at the end of the fall 2015 semester, revealed an unexpected outcome – levels in a few areas of MOA that exceed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines.

Radon is a widespread radioactive gas found in most areas of Pennsylvania that is released when uranium – a natural element found in rock and soil – breaks down and decays. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of many states that has relatively high levels of naturally occurring radon that exceed EPA recommendations.

Any home, school, office or other building can have high levels of radon. It can seep in through the foundation of a house built on radon-contaminated soil or enter the air inside the house through pipes, rains, faucets or appliances if a house’s water supply contains radon. Exposure to radon, an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas, is generally a health concern, but only after long-term exposure.

When he learned of the students’ unofficial research findings, Robert Aronstam, dean of the College of Science and Technology, contacted BU’s facilities personnel who conducted two certified tests in each apartment in the MOA complex during the winter break. Those tests affirmed higher than recommended levels in several areas of MOA.

Certified testing has continued at the Mount Olympus Apartments during January, and methods to reduce radon levels are being investigated, including opening windows and using bathroom fans to bring outside air into the buildings. The 240 students who live in MOA have been notified and additional information and recommendations will provided.

Although radon at higher than acceptable levels has not been detected in any other residential building on campus, BU’s facilities department is initiating a biannual radon testing program for all residence halls and administration buildings. Radon mitigation features will be included in all new construction.

And it all began with a student research project.