Radon still over federal limits at GHS

GUILDERLAND — Radon at levels above what federal guidelines consider safe has been found in some of the same places in Guilderland High School where high readings were recorded a decade ago.

Recent testing showed action levels in the auditorium and several other areas on the school’s east side, including the wrestling room, wrestling coach’s room, and east gym, Clifford Nooney told the school board’s business practices committee on Nov. 9. Nooney oversees buildings and grounds for the district.

Radon — an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas — is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and causes about 20,000 deaths annually, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which has recommended a guideline of 4 picoCuries per liter.  

Testing done at the high school in 2008 found the media office, the auditorium, the east gym, a few science classrooms, the wrestling room and the coaches’ room all had readings above 4 picoCuries per liter. All of those were under 10 except the wrestling room, which was at 22.7.

The EPA recommendation is that levels above 4 picoCuries per liter should be remediated. Levels less than that “still pose a risk, and in many cases may be reduced,” according to the agency’s 2012 Citizens Guide to Radon.

In 2010, Nooney said, remediation systems were put in place in the high school’s auditorium and east gym.

Last winter, he and Brian Hughes, the high school’s health and safety officer, discussed whether they should test for radon again, since time had passed.

On Feb. 12, sampling was done across the east side of the high-school building, placing canisters in test areas for two days and then collecting them for analysis.

In the initial, two-day testing, six areas tested above the EPA recommended action levels, according to a report from Needham Risk Management Resource Group, which conducted the recent testing as well as the testing in 2008. The six areas were the wrestling coach’s room, the wrestling room, the east gym, the auditorium, the auditorium stage, and the auditorium control room.

The highest of these was the auditorium, with 8.0. The auditorium control room was next, with 6.5. The wrestling room had a level of 5.5. The east gym showed 5.0 near the football room and 4.8 near the hallway. The auditorium stage tested at 4.9. The result for the wrestling coach’s room was 4.4.

The areas that showed these elevated levels were the same areas where the district already has mitigation systems running, Nooney told the committee.

There is a tunnel system across the building’s east side, Nooney said. Nooney explained that the issue is how to get the tunnels blocked off and vented. “We can’t just block them off so that we can never access them,” he said, because they contain some infrastructure.

EPA guidelines

It is the number one cause of lung cancer among people who do not smoke; and it is the second leading cause of lung cancer for people who do, according to a 2016 Basic Facts sheet from the EPA. The average indoor level in the United States is about 1.3 PicoCuries per liter, and, in addition to remediating when air shows levels above 4, homeowners should consider fixing their homes when levels are between 2 and 4.

The 2012 Citizens Guide also says:

— Radon comes from the natural, radioactive breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into building structures through cracks and other holes in the foundation, or, for instance, through construction joints gaps in suspended floors, gaps around service pipes, and cavities inside walls. People are most likely to get their greatest exposure in the home, where they spend the most time.

— The EPA recommends testing homes and schools, and remediating when the average of a first and a follow-up test is 4 picoCuries per liter or more.

— It also recommends retesting every two years, “to be sure radon levels remain low.”

The exhaust systems in those areas run 24 hours a day, Nooney said. In the east gym, fresh air is brought in starting at 4 a.m., on weekdays when the school will be occupied.

Longer-range testing

Canisters were set out for 90 days, to assess the levels of radon during varying use conditions.

“Radon is not a constant,” Nooney told the committee.

In the longer-range testing, some of the results for the same areas were worse. The auditorium was 12.3 in one area, and 7.7 in another. The auditorium control room had 8.6 and 5.6. The wrestling room had a result of 9 in one area and 4.1 in another.

Nooney then started working with CSArch to put together a remediation plan, he said.

Mechanical costs alone, such as exhaust systems, are currently estimated at a little over $90,000, Nooney said. The district will also be looking into what it will need to do to control the systems electronically, with software.

Nooney was unable, before press time, to calculate the overall costs for radon testing and remediation over the last decade.

This will be part of the annual budget for 2019-20, through a transfer to capital, Nooney said.

“We’re not required to test for radon,” Sanders told the committee. “No schools are.”

The EPA, does, though, recommend testing in schools, according to its Citizens Guide.

The next steps will be to put together a remediation plan and do a submission to the State Education Department, “since this is a mini capital project,” Nooney said.

Testing was last done at other schools in the district in 2008, Nooney said. The high school was the only building at that time with readings above action levels.




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