Filters sought to reduce radon at Tahoe school
October 6, 2007
Tension filled the room at George Whittell High School in on Wednesday night, as parents, teachers and administrators gathered for a meeting to discuss the discovery of radon levels exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency action levels at Zephyr Cove Elementary School.
Many parents had made clear they were ready to pull their children out of Zephyr Cove Elementary if they weren’t satisfied with what Superintendent Carol Lark had to say about plans to bring down the radon levels.
Radon is a colorless, odorless, naturally-occurring, radioactive gas released from soils that can accumulate to dangerous levels in homes, especially during colder months when windows and doors typically remain closed.
After a presentation on radon by Adrian Howe, radiation physicist with the radiological health sector of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, it was Dirk Roper, the owner of Fallon Heating and Air Conditioning and the certified radon testing and mitigation expert recommended by Nevada state health officials who was able to comfort many of the parents.
“Based on the tests I’ve done (at Zephyr Cove Elementary), I’d say you’re OK,” Roper said.
Roper said it’s the radon progeny – the radioactive particles into which radon decays – that pose a threat to lung tissue. The radon levels found in several rooms at Zephyr Cove Elementary are above the EPA action levels, but the equivalent levels of radon progeny are not dangerous, Roper said.
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Lark outlined the action plans proposed by the district to handle the radon problem. Plan A is to place high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in every room at Zephyr Cove Elementary. The HEPA filters will help to filter the radon progeny, Roper said.
Once the filters are in place, roughly three weeks, Roper will retest every room at the school to ensure that the equivalent levels of radon progeny are below EPA action levels.
If the levels remain above action levels, then the district will move on to Plan B, which entails installing a pressurized ventilation system under the school, helping to keep the radon from entering the school at all. Plan B would require working with the TRPA, and would take roughly a month to begin, and six to eight weeks to complete. Once operational – Lark estimated early January – each room in the school would again be tested by Roper to ensure that radon and progeny levels are below EPA action levels.
Some parents still expressed concerns that although the progeny levels would be reduced by the HEPA filters, they would do nothing to bring down the actual radon levels.
Radon testing is cheap, and from it one can estimate the level of radon progeny, but not precisely, Roper said. Roper tests not only the radon levels, but also the levels of radon progeny.
Some parents were not convinced, and wondered why Zephyr Cove Elementary couldn’t be closed, and students consolidated to Kingsbury Middle School instead.
Other parents, however, seemed comforted by Roper’s explanation of the situation, and of the districts plan of action.
“I think the district is moving forward on this,” Heather Howell said.
Howell, who has two sons at Zephyr Cove Elementary, had drafted a letter for parents to sign saying that they’d pull their kids out of Zephyr Cove Elementary if the district didn’t take swift action on the radon problem.
“I won’t be pulling my kids out,” Howell said.
Denise Dunt, another Zephyr Cove parent, while pleased with the districts plans, is waiting to see that the plan works.
“I’m excited about this,” Dunt said. “I just want to make sure (the filters) are in every room.”