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Updated: Wednesday, 23 May 2012, 7:32 AM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 22 May 2012, 9:45 PM EDT
CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) - You can’t see it, smell it or taste it, but radon, a cancer causing gas, is found in homes, offices, and even classrooms.
Rhode Island is one of five states that require radon testing in schools. The bad news is, it’s there and documented in reports Eyewitness News has obtained.
In the first floor classrooms at Gladstone Elementary in Cranston students are ready to learn, but just below them in a basement meeting room tests done just two months ago show high levels of cancer causing radon gas. That's nearly four times the EPA’s accepted limit, chronic exposure, according to the EPA, “kills 20,000 people a year.”
Cranston Public School’s Plant Manager Joel Zisserson said, “I think one of the reasons is that this school sits on a former coal mine.”
As required by law, the school is now conducting a long term radon test to see if these numbers remain high. If they do, radon mitigation is mandatory.
“It gets frustrating, but we’re very much on top of it and when we get the test results and see that it’s not within what we should be, it gets frustrating, and we will mitigate,” said Zisserson.
Eyewitness News went to the Health Department and requested radon test results from every school in the state. We found dozens of schools where radon levels repeatedly tested above the EPA’s acceptable level of four. Some of the numbers we found; 91, 33, 18, 12, 27,25, 31, 28, 19, 16.
We asked the head of Rhode Island’s radon program whether parents should be concerned if their child’s classroom tested high. Bob Vanderslice said, “There's cause for concern for every kid, and what I am hoping is that for those parents that are concerned they will get their own homes tested.”
There’s good reason to test homes and schools. A map from the EPA shows two of Rhode Island’s largest counties, Kent and Washington, are in what the EPA calls “level 1” radon hot zones. This means there’s potential for high levels of radon which is a naturally occurring radioactive gas in the ground.
Gladstone has had a history of high levels of radon gas since it started testing for it in 1988; levels in some cases were 18 times higher than the acceptable level of four. Gladstone is not alone based on health department records.
Eyewitness News flagged a number of schools who’ve had to deal with unacceptable levels of radon for years. School records show high levels of radon were found in several East Greenwich classrooms, since it started testing in 1998.
In December 2011 at Cole Middle School, rooms 102 and 113 tested at 4.2 At East Greenwich High School room 143 tested at 6.6. School officials would not go on camera to discuss the results, but in a statement the director of facilities said, “We are performing the long term testing as required by the State Health Department.”
Eyewitness News has learned that while “four” may be the acceptable level for radon, the EPA admits, “There is no known safe level of exposure to radon.”
Vanderslice said, “That’s why we’re doing this, it’s because we are worried about the dangers of radon, so you want to make sure that you are addressing the problem and identifying it correctly.”
The Rhode Island Department of Health says schools are responsible for making sure radon testing gets done and the results are reported to the department of health. At this point, we’re told they are unaware of any school that is not in compliance.
Massachusetts does not require radon testing in schools.
In regards to the current radon test results, Robert Wilmarth, Director of Facilities at the East Greenwich School Department said:
“In the three rooms where the short term tests have come back above 4.0 PCI and below 20.0 PCI we are performing the long term testing as required by the state health department, and are quite confident that the results of this testing will show that all of these rooms will fall within the normal range.
Regarding the short term test results from 2006 which were elevated, long term testing was conducted, several rooms were elevated, and all were mitigated.
Though the area is considered a hot spot, the levels we typically have been experiencing in all of our facilities typically fall within the normal range which is below 4 PCI. Of the few which the ongoing testing reveal are in the low action range between 4 and 20 PCI, the majority of these when tested long term reveal acceptable levels below 4 PCI.
In the few cases these long term tests reveal elevated results the counts typically are still relatively low, usually in the single digits, these few instances require mitigation system installation and follow up testing, the results of which have always been successful and well below 4 PCI. The presence of radon is a natural occurrence, like dust or pollen, it is everywhere, all the time, in varying levels. If properly managed (as we all do in this state) radon should not be a cause for concern. Providing of course the protocol that has been established by the department of
health is being followed.
We currently have three radon mitigation systems installed in the district. One at the Frenchtown School, one at the Meadowbrook School, and one at the High School. There were three systems installed at the former Middle School, however that building no longer exists.”
RI radon testing requirements: http://www.health.ri.gov/healthrisks/poisoning/radon/for/schoolspublicbuildingandchildcarecenters/
Map showing the hot zones in RI : http://www.epa.gov/radon/states/rhodeisland.html
From the EPA, radon in schools: http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/schoolrn.html
Health risks of radon: http://www.epa.gov/radon/healthrisks.html
More radon questions: http://iaq.supportportal.com/link/portal/23002/23007/ArticleFolder/976/Radon
Copyright WPRI 12
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