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A dismal radon report card

Date Published: 08/28/2006 [Source]

When Ernie Wangelin sought information on how Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 should conduct radon testing and follow up on elevated readings, he found little guidance from the state of Colorado.

It's kind of a gray area, said Wangelin, director of maintenance, grounds and transportation for D-12. There's also no mandate for any periodic followup testing, unless a school undergoes extensive renovations. At many schools, test results are more than 15 years old.

Jim Burkhart, a radon expert and physics professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, is leading a new state subcommittee that will consider making recommendations about updating radon regulations.

Schools testing is at the top of his priority list.

Burkhart said parents should absolutely be concerned with radon levels, which have been linked to lung cancer. They (children) spend eight hours a day there. That's basically half their indoor time.

In El Paso County schools, test results and test dates are all over the map, according to data compiled by The Gazette. Among the findings:

- Calhan School District tested as recently as late 2005, and although elevated levels weren't found in any classrooms, three rooms in the district's administration building tested high. Among them was the superintendent's office, which registered a reading of 5.2.

- Since The Gazette's records request, Harrison School District 2 has budgeted $25,000 for retesting and potential mitigation in five schools that registered readings well above EPA guidelines during both short-term and long-term tests done in 1989 and 1990.

Two of the five schools Stratton Meadows and Chamberlin elementaries, both west of Interstate 25 were mitigated in 1992, but the district has been unable to find results of post-mitigation tests, said Mark Wilsey, the district's director of support services.

Harrison High School, where 21 of 29 rooms tested in 1990 had elevated radon levels, is on the retest list, and the district also plans to check Gorman Education Center, which houses the district's alternative middle and high schools, along with certain rooms at Bricker Elementary. Gorman was remodeled and needs to be retested under state guidelines; long-term results at Bricker in 1990 ranged from 5.3 to 10.6.

Unlike other districts, which placed test kits in every classroom of every school, Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 sampled just 14 locations in its eight schools. In two of the 14 results � one from the high school and another at Canon Elementary � levels were elevated. The most recent tests were done in December 2005 and January 2006. The district has not undergone mitigation but has included radon remediation as part of a list of capital improvements to be evaluated, Wangelin said.

It's estimated that nearly one in five schools nationwide has at least one room with radon levels above 4, according to the EPA, which recommends schools test all frequently used rooms that are on and below ground level. The EPA also recommends testing during colder months and during weekdays, when school is in session, so heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are operating as normal.

Doug Kladder, president of Colorado Vintage Companies, the Colorado Springs firm that did the recent work for District 11 and has been hired by several districts in the past, said unbalanced air conditioning systems, remodeling and even putting up false walls in rooms can boost radon levels.



Each school shall have completed radon tests by March 1, 1991. Schools constructed after the effective date of these rules and regulations shall complete radon tests within 19 months of the date of occupancy. Schools remodeled after the effective date of these rules and regulations shall notify the (state health) department of such remodeling in order that the department may assess the need for any additional radon testing. Radon tests shall be conducted pursuant to the procedures described in the Environmental Protection Agencys Radon Measurements in Schools, Revised Edition July 1993. The results of these tests shall be on file at each school and available for review.


Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that has been linked to lung cancer. It is formed by the breakdown of uranium in soil and rock and often seeps into buildings through cracks in foundations. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that buildings with radon level above 4 pCi/L be fixed.