Neshobe Elementary School identifies and addresses radon infiltration

BRANDON — School administrators are assuring parents of students at Neshobe Elementary that they are taking steps to mitigate the dangers of elevated radon gas levels in the Brandon building.

In the district’s letter to parents last Wednesday, Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Jeanńe Collins said these screening values are not an immediate health concern to students or staff as there is no known acute health effects associated with exposure to radon.

“The Department of Health has been very clear there is no imminent health risk,” Collins said. “The district is taking proactive steps to mitigate elevated levels that exist and have probably existed for years.”

Her Jan. 2 letter was a follow up to an initial letter sent to parents Dec. 19 alerting them to early positive test results for radon.

Radon is an invisible, odorless and tasteless gas, with no immediate health symptoms, that comes from the breakdown of uranium inside the earth. The naturally occurring gas can sometimes get trapped in enclosed spaces. Simple test kits can reveal the amount of radon in any building. High levels of the gas can be fixed with simple and affordable venting techniques.

At Neshobe, RNESU immediately contracted a company to do additional testing. Testing equipment was set up for five days during the holiday break and picked up on Jan. 2. The district is hoping to have the results of those tests back this week.

In addition, the district is also running the air exchangers 24 hours a day, seven days a week now. Previously the exchangers were turned off on weekends.

The Vermont Health Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommend that all homes and schools be tested for radon, and that actions be taken to reduce radon levels detected at or above 4.0 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). Radon levels below 4.0 pCi/L still pose some risk, and so state and federal health officials recommend considering action to reduce radon levels detected at or above 2.0 pCi/L.

The EPA has been testing schools nationally and the Department of Health has been offering to test schools locally for radon gas. Collins volunteered for Neshobe radon testing. On Dec. 4, Health Department staff placed 50 test kits throughout Neshobe and picked them up 72 hours later. After testing, results revealed that many of the classrooms in the school had elevated levels of radon gas.

Radon levels at or above 4.0 pCi/L were detected in the following rooms: Room 47, 11.5 pCi/L; Room 48, 9.8; Room 50, 10.8; Room 52, 11.0; Room 53 (Learning Center), 10.9; Room 56, 8.2; Room 58, 8.4; Room 61, 10.1; Room 62, 13.3; Room 63, 4.4; Brick Building Teacher’s Room, 19.4; and N. Bird’s Office, 4.1.

While health officials are giving assurances that elevated radon at Neshobe should not be a great worry, the situation is not without concern,

According to the EPA website, radon is the number-one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Overall, radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked.

In January of 2005, then U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona released a national health advisory and warned about the risks of breathing radon.

“Indoor radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the county,” Dr. Carmona said. “It’s important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques.”

Anyone interested in testing their own home for radon, can request a free, long-term test kit from the Vermont Health Department’s Radon Program by calling 1-800-439-8550 or emailing radon@vermont.gov.

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