Blue Ridge Elementary School radon levels above those allowed by EPA

The carcinogenic gas was found in levels above those allowed by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

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WALLA WALLA -- Blue Ridge Elementary School families were to be notified today that the facility has tested high for levels of radon, a carcinogen.

Blue Ridge staff members were notified Tuesday about the results, which show radon, a radioactive gas, present above the acceptable level recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency. The gas, a class A carcinogen, has been linked to lung cancer in people who are exposed to it over time.

Mark Higgins, district spokesman, said staff were notified of the air quality results Tuesday, and that Blue Ridge parents and the general public were to be notified Wednesday. But at least one news source reported on the radon detection late Tuesday.

Radon was detected at the school following indoor air quality testing by Fulcrum Environmental Consulting. Higgins said the consulting firm was brought in following requests from staff to evaluate indoor air.

"I think over the years, people have said, 'it just doesn't feel like the air is that great here,'" he said. "We've done tests in the past, but radon was never discovered. We wanted to support their wishes, and we brought in Fulcrum to do another round of testing. This is the first time they tested for radon, and the first time radon was found."

Immediate remedies at the school, located at 1150 W. Chestnut St., include running ventilation, heating and air-conditioning systems 20 hours a day to lower the radon levels found in the air. District leaders are to meet with industry professionals today to discuss a permanent plan.

Fulcrum's results showed that radon was most present during evening and weekend hours, when the school's ventilation system was not operational, according to a district news release.

Walla Walla Public Schools is also following-up on recommendations to work with an industry professional to develop a long-term radon mitigation plan. The district will be working with Advanced Radon Technologies, a Spokane firm considered an expert in radon and its mitigation. Future district plans also include more tests, including air-quality tests at other district facilities with basements.

The district has talked with the local and state health departments on the results and necessary action. Walla Walla County Health Department Director Harvey Crowder has said the school is safe to occupy as long as the ventilation systems are in continuous use as recommended, according to the news release.

"The safety of our staff and students is our number one priority," said Superintendent Rich Carter in a statement. "We will do whatever it takes to develop a permanent solution to ensure radon levels are mitigated."

Fulcrum consulting told the district Blue Ridge is the most likely building in the district to have a radon gas concern because of its deep basement and its general underground construction.

Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the decay of uranium that occurs naturally in soil, according to the news release.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Rich Carter addressed Blue Ridge staff on the test results and the district's plan to reduce the radon levels. Principal Kim Doepker and Preschool Director Kerri Coffman were to send letters home to parents today. A parent meeting has been scheduled for Thursday at 3 p.m. in the Blue Ridge gym, and radon experts will be available to answer parents' questions.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.

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