PPS says high levels of radon found in six schools - KPTV - FOX 12

PPS says high levels of radon found in six schools

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Lent is one of six schools in the district that PPS officials said had a room that tested positive for radon levels above the EPA action level. (KPTV) Lent is one of six schools in the district that PPS officials said had a room that tested positive for radon levels above the EPA action level. (KPTV)

In the wake of intensifying concerns about lead in the water at Portland Public Schools, district officials also announced this week that high levels of radon were found in six schools. 

According to the district, all schools will remain open for the rest of the school year, as radon levels are more of problem in winter months when all doors and windows are closed. Some parents say they're still considered, though.

The district reported that it hired the firm PBS Environmental in March of 2016 to conduct district wide radon testing based on requirements of new legislation mandating testing in every school by January 2021. The district noted schools were last tested for radon in 2001.

PPS decided to focus their testing on the 26 PPS buildings that had higher radon levels in 2001. Of those buildings, they sampled 800 rooms, and 121 rooms exceeded the initial action level of 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) but were less than 10 pCiL.

The tests showed that PPS had nine rooms in six schools - Meek, Beaumont, Whitman, Roseway Heights, Lent and Marysville - that exceeded the higher action level of 10pCi/L or above.

Staff at those six schools are now opening their windows and running their HVAC systems around the clock to circulate air in the building for the rest of the school year.

Sarah Lewins, the principal at Roseway Heights, said she’s taking extra precautions and moving a first grade class affected by the radon into a computer lab.

“We’re trying to operate as normal given there’s only five more days of the school, and there’s excitement with that,” Lewins said. "But, we tried to move as much as we could and make it look like a regular classroom for them and they’re doing a great job.”

Some parents said they aren’t convinced that those actions are enough to protect kids from the radioactive gas that can enter the school through cracks in the foundation.

One mother who came to watch her son’s presentation at Lent school said she was paranoid the whole time she was inside of the building.

“I was in my son’s class and they had the windows open with the shades closed, but when they started doing the presentation they closed the windows,” mother Janelle Kilbourn said. “I looked at my mom and was like, ‘If they don’t open them after the presentation, I’m going to say something.’”

The district acknowledged that releasing the results now comes at a bad time, but they’re doing it to be as transparent as possible.

Superintendent Carole Smith was not available for comment, but PPS spokesperson Christine Miles said releasing the radon testing results now is part of keeping district families informed. 

“You know this wasn’t good news for her, the timing of it,” Miles said. “But, this is the way it should work. You get the results, she should be informed, the board should be informed and then we should send it out to the community. That’s the way it should have worked with lead testing and that’s why they’re calling for a third party investigation, to hold someone accountable.”

The district said they will begin their next round of radon testing in those six schools Monday. 

The district noted that per EPA guidelines, a follow-up test on the 121 other rooms where lower levels of radon were found will be performed in the next few months.

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