Scott County

School's radon levels are a concern

GEORGETOWN — High radon levels discovered at a Scott County elementary school have created a frenzy among some parents and caused school leaders to relocate a first-grade classroom and cancel gym classes.

Tests conducted on the lower level of Garth Elementary School in Georgetown revealed high levels of the colorless, odorless gas that is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, school and health department officials said. Radon occurs naturally, usually through the decay of uranium in soil.

During a public meeting Wednesday afternoon at Garth, school leaders tried to alleviate parents' fears and educate them on the gas.

"They need to take these kids out of here until they do fix the problem," said JoAnn Duchnowski, leaving the meeting with two grandchildren.

A company hired by the school tested Garth's basement, where the gym and a classroom are, and found 12 to 15 picocuries of radon per liter of air, Scott County School Superintendent Patricia Putty said. The health department found radon levels of 25 to 36 in the basement, said Gene Thomas, environmental director for the Wedco District Health Department.

The second and third levels measured 0.5 to 6.7, with an average of 4.2, Putty said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that structures with radon levels at or above 4 picocuries per liter of air take measures to reduce concentrations.

Thomas urged parents to test their homes for radon. The EPA has deemed several Central Kentucky counties as red zones, the worst of three categories, with predicted average indoor levels greater than 4.

County health departments offer free radon testing.

Thomas said the highest level he's seen in Scott County is 120 at a residence. A Woodford County structure had 435.

All Scott County schools will be tested for radon, Putty said. Schools are not required to test, and there are no laws regarding radon mitigation.

Garth was tested for radon in mid-December after someone affiliated with the school filed a complaint with the state's Department for Public Health. Beth Fisher, a spokeswoman for the department, said the person was concerned about mold and radon because of Garth's age. Garth was built in the 1920s.

Putty said there's little information to show how long someone would have to be exposed to radon before the risk for lung cancer increases.

The radon company will start tests Monday at Garth to determine whether it can resolve the problem using a ventilation method.