Elevated Levels Of Radon Found In Some Metro Schools - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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Elevated Levels Of Radon Found In Some Metro Schools

Posted: Updated: April 1, 2011 06:49 PM CDT

By Ben Hall, Phil Williams and Kevin Wisniewski
NewsChannel 5 Investigates

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Just-released tests results from the Metro Nashville Health Department show elevated levels of the cancer-causing gas radon in some Nashville classrooms. 

Of the 1,239 tests completed during the first round of tests inside 35 Metro schools, 331 (26.7 percent) demonstrated levels above four picoCuries per liter, the Environmental Protection Agency's action threshold. 

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer.

The Health Department started testing classrooms over Spring Break after NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered that the school system had ignored warnings from 20 years ago that it had a "serious radon problem."

CLICK HERE to check out radon levels from the Metro schools in the first round of tests

Some of the highest levels were at Hattie Cotton Elementary in East Nashville where one classroom was 41.7 picoCuries -- that's 10 times higher than the EPA recommended level.  Other classrooms were well above 20 picoCuries.

"We'll be looking right away at the ventilation system in those rooms," said Dr. Bill Paul, director of the Metro Health Department.

Making matters worse, some schools that had high levels more than 20 years ago still have high levels today.  Two Rivers Middle School in Donelson had consistently high levels -- several classrooms were more than five times higher than recommended levels.

Back in 1989, when it was Two Rivers High school tests showed extremely high levels including three classrooms above 100 picoCuries.

"All I can say is we found out about it, we're retesting and we're going to make those changes" necessary to reduce the radon levels, Paul said.

Other schools that showed high levels include Whitsett Elementary in South Nashville, where crews placed 43 tests. Every classroom but two were above the EPA's recommended level. Five classrooms at Whitsett were above 20 picoCuries.

The head of the Health Department admits if he'd been a teacher in one of those classrooms for many years he'd have concerns.

"If it was me and I knew that had happened,  I'd have some feelings about it," Paul admitted.

Former Metro Councilman Rod Williams called the results an "outrage." Williams passed a law in 1988 in the Metro Council requiring testing in all schools, but somehow the law was forgotten.

"A generation of kids are now adults who lived breathing radon every day and that should have been tested 20 years ago," Williams said.

"This should have been solved 20 years ago.  I'm glad they're testing now, but it's 20 years later than it should have been."

Health Department officials said every Metro school will eventually be tested.

Email: bhall@newschannel5.com

Click here to view updated results from the 2011 radon tests

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