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E.P.A. Plans Model Radon-Testing Project

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Washington--The Environmental Protection Agency will conduct a model radon-testing program in a Virginia district to develop national guidelines for detecting and measuring the hazardous gas in schools.

The agency has announced that it will thoroughly test four schools in Fairfax County, Va., a suburban district here, as the first part of its plan to develop a model testing program.

The agency will employ at least two methods of measuring the radon levels in each school. Charcoal canisters will be used to measure the levels present over a short period--two to three days--and another type of detector will be installed to determine levels present over a period of one to three months.

Prolonged exposure to radon--an odorless, colorless, naturally occurring radioactive gas--is believed to increase the risk of lung cancer. Radon seeps into buildings through holes and cracks in their foundations. (See Education Week, March 4, 1987.) The Senate has approved a bill that would give states a total of $10 million to test schools for radon, and the House is considering a similar bill. A second House bill would ask the epa to establish a new, tougher standard for the acceptable level of the gas per liter of air.

The agency's current testing protocols, designed for homes, will not work in schools because of their differing ventilation, usage, and interior-space patterns, said Kirk Maconaughey, chief of the problem-assessment branch in the epa's radon division. Mr. Maconaughey said agency officials picked the Fairfax school system because of its extensive radon-testing program. All of the district's 185 schools have been tested over the past two years, and 10 were found to have radon levels above those considered safe under current epa guidelines.--ef

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