This 2000 letter from the head of the Tennessee Radon Program to the head of Tennessee's Parent Teacher Association shows the challenges that program administrators faced in getting school officials to take the issue seriously.more>>
Metro Nashville teachers are demanding action from the school board following a NewsChannel 5 investigation. They're concerned about dangerous levels of the cancer-causing gas radon in classrooms.more>>
Friday, April 1 2011 8:19 PM EDT2011-04-02 00:19:43 GMT
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By Ben Hall Investigative Reporter
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Just-released tests show Nashville schools could have a big problem with the cancer-causing gas radon.
But our NewsChannel 5 investigation has now discovered that schools all across Tennessee could have tested years ago.
Instead, officials ignored a program that offered free radon testing to every school district in the state. Despite the free testing, many districts worried -- not about student or teacher safety -- but about how much it would cost to fix the problem.
Sumner County schools have now joined Metro schools in testing for radon.
But state records show no other district in Middle Tennessee has tested for radon in the last 10 years. Even when the state offered free testing from 1988 to 2005, only a handful of districts across Tennessee accepted.
The EPA strongly recommends that all schools test.
While the testing would have been free, the cost of fixing the problem was left up to the schools.
A letter obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, from the head of the Tennessee Radon Program in 2000, shows many schools weren't interesting in free testing, in part, because they worried about the costs associated with lowering levels.
The letter is addressed to the president of Tennessee Parent Teacher Association and goes on to say that radon "doesn't have to be a money absorbing issue."
Records show that when many school districts were asked by the state if they wanted free testing, they responded that would not be interested "until it becomes a requirement."
Metro schools long-time point person for radon, Thomas Hatfield, claimed Metro did not participate in the program because he didn't know it existed.
The Health Department has already spent more than $25,000 on radon tests that it started over Spring Break.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Hatfield, "You were the person the EPA said needs to be the point person for radon, and you had no idea the state was offering free tests?"
"I did not," he answered.
State records show Hatfield was contacted by the radon program in 1995 about a radon mitigation project. Documents indicate he was adamant about maintaining confidentiality. He said there was to be no release of information to the media about radon programs in Davidson County.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Has the concern been, if there were tests it might alarm the public, so let's not test?"
"No, I don't think it has," Hatfield responded. "I think anything we do is public record, and I don't think that was the concern."
State Sen. Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, sponsored a law passed in 2005, encouraging -- but not requiring -- schools to test for radon.
"It's a balancing act in resources, but I know that to a person folks are concerned about air quality," Woodson said.
Now parents, teachers and students will find out about radon levels inside Metro and Sumner County Schools, but for other districts, testing remains just a recommendation.
The state of Virginia passed a law requiring schools to keep radon test results in their front offices so parents can request them. Many states require testing, but not Tennessee.
Williamson County last tested in 1989. Rutherford and Montgomery counties tested in the 1990s. Giles county last tested in 2000.
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