Two Wythe County schools mitigating for radon, cancer causing gas

WYTHE COUNTY (WSLS 10) –   Two schools in Wythe County will update radon mitigation systems after testing for the radioactive gas over summer and winter break.  The gas can be found in homes, schools and businesses. If exposed for long periods of time over decades, radon causes lung cancer.  It’s thought to be the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.

Wythe County Superintendent Dr. Jeff Perry says they did more than 300 tests in thirteen schools. Three classrooms at Spiller Elementary School and two rooms at Speedwell Elementary School tested above 4.0 which means the gas needs to be mitigated.

Testing showed:
Spiller Room 239 – 8.4
Spiller Room 241 – 7.6
Spiller Room 242 – 5.3
Speedwell Open Classroom 4.9
Speedwell Gym 7.8

“We know that in Wytheville for example we live in a very high populated radon level area,” said Dr. Perry. “The biggest thing is that there is no immediate health concerns associated with the levels that we have right now for the short period of time we think that they will be there.”

The school system says “there is no reliable information which indicates short-term exposure creates any health issues for staff or students.  We will take care of it quickly, but only long-term exposure (18 hours a day for 70 years) can produce minimum health issues.”

There is a meeting with parents and the community Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. at the George Wythe High School gym.

More information on Radon from the Virginia Department of Health can be found here.

Notice from Wythe County Public Schools:

During the summer and winter break, Wythe County Public Schools conducted a series of radon tests throughout the county schools. All classrooms were tested. All classrooms were below the 4 pCi/L level with the exception of 3 classrooms (239, 241, and 242) at Spiller Elementary School and 2 rooms at Speedwell Elementary (open primary classroom and gym). Although we were confident those classrooms posed no immediate safety issues, we contacted some professionals for additional input. We contacted the Virginia Department of Health who deals with radon levels in schools and a radon mitigation specialist. They have both confirmed that these current levels don’t pose any immediate health issues to staff or students. Individuals exposed to these levels for 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 70 consecutive years would have a 1% chance of developing lung cancer – about the same chance of being killed in an automobile accident.

The primary way of mitigating or eliminating radon is through ventilation. We currently have a mitigation system in Spiller but it needs attention. Speedwell doesn’t have a mitigation system because the original radon tests didn’t record levels above a 4. To address the problem, we are installing an updated mitigation system at Spiller and Speedwell to effectively deal with the issue. This system should be in place by this Saturday at Spiller and as soon as possible at Speedwell. It will take a little more time at Speedwell because we have to install the ventilation system underneath the slab/foundation. It is very possible that all radon levels at Spiller should be within the normal ranges by the weekend and that Speedwell will be finished soon. We will install the mitigation system and conduct preliminary tests immediately to determine the effectiveness of the systems. We will report the results and we will not have to do anything else if the systems work and the levels are below a 4. If those preliminary numbers are not below a 4, we will install additional mitigation systems to take care of the issue.

We know that parents may have concerns and questions. We will meet with parents and community members on Wednesday, February 22 at 6:00 p.m. at the GWHS auditorium to discuss the issue. Please join us and we will provide information on testing, on the impact of radon, and will answer questions you may have. The safety of students and staff is our primary concern. We would not allow your child to be in a classroom that we believed was unsafe. Please join us next week and we will answer all questions you have.

A couple more quick pieces of information that individuals have requested. First, the following are the averages for the rooms in question. It is important to note the mitigation specialist has addressed a school in a neighboring county over 100 and a facility in Pennsylvania that was over 1,000. Our rooms are no where near those levels.

Spiller Room 239 – 8.4
Spiller Room 241 – 7.6
Spiller Room 242 – 5.3
Speedwell Open Classroom 4.9
Speedwell Gym 7.8

Second, we tested in a closed environment with all doors and windows shut for 48 hours. This would likely produce the highest possible results. These levels would probably not be that high during a normal day with the doors and windows open.

Third, we were not required to conduct these tests. We were required to test only once after 1994 but we tested again to ensure safety. The testing did exactly what we wanted it to do. It identified rooms that need mitigation.

Fourth, there is no reliable information which indicates short-term exposure creates any health issues for staff or students. We will take care of it quickly, but only long-term exposure (18 hours a day for 70 years) can produce minimum health issues.

Fifth, there was no attempt to hide or conceal information from the community. This type of testing occurs frequently in schools and we notify parents and staff if there are legitimate health concerns. We would immediately move children/staff and notify parents if there were immediate issues. We have done this testing in the past and addressed high radon levels with no issues. This one caught the attention of some folks and I suspect social media helped to spread information more quickly than the past. We attempt to be very transparent with all issues and will explain this in more depth at our meeting.

Join us on February 22 and we will answer any questions you may have.

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