Metro Schools make air quality improvements
In October, the Metropolitan Health Department, with assistance from Metro Nashville Public Schools’ maintenance staff, completed initial testing for radon of all occupied buildings (approximately 180) within Metro Schools. Initial testing began in mid-March. Over the past several months, Metro Schools has used a variety of strategies to reduce radon readings in any rooms where they were above the EPA recommended action level of 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter). Some of these efforts include:
- Increasing air circulation through vents and heating and air systems
- Checking rooms for cracks, holes or any other opening that may allow radon to enter from the ground and sealing those openings
- Checking functionality of mitigation systems, including fans and vents, designed to direct radon gas outside the building
Testing results have identified 36 buildings that have between one (1) and three (3) rooms that exceeded 4 pCi/L. Because radon readings can be affected by numerous factors and the higher reading was taken in just a few rooms, the Health Department began retesting these buildings during the first week of December, 2011 using a 90-day test that will provide a more accurate reading of radon levels. With this test, MNPS expects to see most of these buildings drop below the action level. The buildings being re-tested include:
Whites Creek HS
J.E. Moss ES
Buena Vista ES
West End MS
M.L. King HS
Fall Hamilton ES
Dan Mills ES
Rose Park MS
|Neely's Bend ES
I.T. Creswell MS
Mt. View ES
Henry Maxwell ES
Testing will continue in the coming weeks, with seven to 10 schools tested each weekend. Because it is important that the test canisters not be disturbed, testing must occur when buildings are unoccupied.
The EPA recommends that action be taken to reduce levels if the concentration of radon is 4 pCi/L or higher. Test results can be affected by any number of factors. Because of this, any room or building with preliminary readings higher than 4 picocurries should be retested. You can see a breakdown of the results on our Radon Testing Results page.
What This Means for Your Child
While elevated radon levels need to be taken seriously, they do not pose an immediate danger. Radon levels can fluctuate over time, and the EPA does not recommend taking action to reduce radon levels based on one single test unless follow-up testing confirms high levels. Even in homes and bedrooms with very high levels of radon, the EPA does not suggest avoiding or evacuating these areas while efforts are underway to reduce the levels.
How We Plan to Fix This Issue
If the radon levels remain higher than 4 picocuries per liter after additional testing, Metro Schools and the Metro Health Department will follow an EPA-approved guide to reduce radon levels. For most buildings, this simply means increasing the circulation of outside air through the vents and heating and air systems.
Venting systems can be installed that vent radon gas from below the ground to the outside, where it is quickly diluted to very low levels. Sometimes heating-ventilation-air conditioning systems are adjusted to increase ventilation or air pressure so that radon levels are reduced.
Why We're Testing
On Monday, March 7, Metro Nashville Public Schools learned through a media inquiry that it had been more than 20 years since schools had been tested for radon. The Metro Health Department and Metro Schools immediately made plans to begin testing with the first of the multi-day tests beginning on Monday, March 14. Analysis of results took additional time.
Radon is a naturally occurring gas that is common in Middle Tennessee. Concentrations of radon indoors can be a health hazard that is often fixed through better ventilation. There is no state or federal requirement to test schools for radon. The school district has confirmed the existence of a 1990 Metro Ordinance requiring the Metro Health Department to test all school buildings on a periodic schedule; however, this ordinance was never placed into the Metro Code of Law and was not known by current staff of either the Health Department or school district. We are not aware of any local health agency or school district in Middle Tennessee that regularly tests for radon.
The Environmental Protection Agency advises regular radon testing of below-ground and ground-level rooms in schools and homes. Testing should occur during cold weather when doors and windows are most likely to be closed and radon concentrations are highest.
Since the mid-1990s, Metro Schools has added passive radon mitigation systems to schools as part of 80+ new construction projects.
In 1988, testing indicated radon levels in six Metro schools were higher than the EPA recommendation. The district made changes in those schools and subsequent testing at that time showed air quality improved to within EPA recommendations.