System to address radon at Walla Walla school

A mitigation system is expected to be installed by the end of April to deal with the radioactive gas.

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WALLA WALLA -- A radon mitigation system is expected to be installed and in place at Blue Ridge Elementary by the end of April, according to a news release by Walla Walla Public Schools.

The new system is expected to address elevated levels of radon, a radioactive gas that occurs naturally in soil but has been linked to lung cancer in people exposed to it over time.

Results of indoor air-quality tests conducted recently showed higher than recommended levels of the gas present in the school, particularly at night and in basement classrooms.

In an immediate step, the school district began operating the school's heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system 20 hours a day, seven days a week, as recommended by Fulcrum Environmental Consulting, which was brought in to test indoor air and detected radon at the school.

This week, Fulcrum continued tests at the school and concluded that radon levels have dropped significantly because of the continued use of the ventilation system.

The company monitored radon continuously at the school between Jan. 20 and 27, and found radon at levels of about 1.1 picocuries per liter of air in upper classrooms, and about 4.1 pCi/L in lower levels, according to the release.

The Environmental Protection Agency sets radon benchmarks for indoor air at 4 pCi/L. Initial testing at Blue Ridge showed radon at concentrations as much as four times higher than those set by the EPA.

Despite the drop, a long-term mitigation plan is the ultimate goal. A radon mitigation company, Advanced Radon Technologies of Spokane, will be at the school March 5-7, during parent-teacher conferences, to begin work on the long-term plan.

That work includes sealing vents in the school's HVAC system as well as installing a radon ventilation system, according to the release.

The entire system may be in place by late April, as students return to school from spring break. A more detailed timeline is still being developed.

Monitoring for radon is likely to continue weekly after the mitigation system is in place.

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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