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E.P.A. Surveying for Radon Levels in 1,200 Schools

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Some 1,200 schools across the nation are currently being surveyed for radon levels by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The survey, which was required by the Indoor Radon Abatement Act of 1988, includes schools from 48 states and the District of Columbia. The agency is to report the results of the study to the Congress next year.

The Congress passed the law in response to concerns that radon--an odorless, colorless, and tasteless radioactive gas--could cause lung cancer. A product of the natural decay of uranium in soil and rocks, radon normally seeps into buildings through their basements and foundations.

The survey, which began in December and will continue to the end of the school year, is not the first time that the epa has sampled a large number of schools for radon. After a preliminary survey of 130 schools in 16 states two years ago, the agency recommended that all schools be tested for the gas. (See Education Week, April 26, 1989.)

In the current survey, two groups of schools are being tested under two different testing protocols, explained Lisa A. Ratcliff, who is coordinating the survey for the epa

The larger sample, which contained 1,070 schools, was tested for radon for one week with charcoal canisters, an inexpensive detection method commonly used to determine if further tests are needed. More than 30,000 detectors were used to gather radon measurements in all rooms in the schools that are both commonly occupied and have contact with the ground.

In a smaller sample of 125 schools, all commonly occupied rooms on both the ground and upper levels are being tested for radon.

In addition to the charcoal canisel15lters, each room in the second sample also contains an "alpha-track detector," a long-term measuring device that was installed in December and will be removed at the end of the school year. The detectors contain plastic strips that are altered by the energy released by decaying radon.

Ms. Ratcliff said that schools that have radon readings above 20 picocuries per liter of air from the charcoal canisters will be notified this spring and will be advised to undertake mitigation activities as soon as possible. The other schools will be notified of their results this summer, she said.

Epa officials estimate it will cost schools between $500 and $10,000 to lower high radon levels.--ef

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