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Panel Passes Bill on School Radon

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Washington--After a delay of more than a year, a key House panel has approved a measure that would lower radon levels in school buildings.

The bill, adopted last month by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, authorizes a total of $42 million over the next three years for state programs that identify and reduce radon levels in both homes and schools. It would earmark $1.5 million for a survey by the Environmental Protection Agency to determine the extent of radon contamination in schools.

The agency would also be required under the measure to provide remedial assistance to selected schools with high levels of the gas.

The bill had languished in the full panel's Subcommittee on Health and the Environment for more than a year following its adoption last summer by another House subcommittee and by the full Senate.

It contains an amendment that would require the epa to drop from its consumer literature any suggestion that there is a minimum acceptable level of radon indoors.

Currently, the agency recommends that building owners plan remediation activities if radon levels exceed more than 4 picocuries per liter of air. Critics--including Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the health and environment panel--have argued that that level is too high.

Radon is an odorless and colorless gas that seeps into buildings through their foundations. Scientists believe it poses a serious health threat and can cause lung cancer.

Lead Measures Advance

In addition to its action on the radon measure, the health and environment subcommittee also approved last month a bill that would reduce the amount of lead in schools' drinking water.

The bill would require water-cooler manufacturers to recall all models with lead or lead-lined tanks and would ban the manufacture or sale of coolers containing lead that comes into contact with drinking water.

It would authorize funding of up to $30 million a year for three years for state projects aimed at helping schools test for and remedy lead contamination in their drinking water, and an additional $66 million over three years for screening programs to determine the blood levels of lead in infants and children.

The measure would also force the epa to tighten its standards for acceptable levels of lead in drinking water at both the entry point to a distribution system and at the tap. And it would require the agency to develop protocols for testing lead levels in schools' drinking water.

A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate.

In related developments:

The epa has released its long-awaited proposal for dealing with lead in drinking water. The suggested regulations, which were published in the Federal Register Aug. 18, would require that water suppliers take action to reduce lead levels if tap water they sample averages more than 10 parts per billion of the metal. Currently, water may not contain more than 50 parts per billion.

The epa proposal would not establish a maximum level for lead, but would, instead, force water suppliers to achieve what state and federal regulators determined to be the lowest possible level. If, after adequate remediation efforts, that level exceeded 10 parts per billion, the supplier would be required only to conduct a public-education campaign.

Federal officials expect the proposal to become law in about a year, after a public-comment period and several hearings.

A study published in the Aug. 25 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine has provided additional evidence that cognitive development may be permanently affected by exposure to low levels of lead during early childhood.

A team of Australian researchers found that children in the study group who had been exposed to the highest levels of lead during their first four years scored lowest on intelligence tests at age 4.

The researchers concluded that "there may be no clear [lead exposure] threshold below which an adverse effect on mental development does not occur."

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