A second round of radon testing in six rooms at four Portland schools revealed persistent very high levels of radioactive radon in the Lent School main office, so office functions have been moved to another room in the school, district officials announced late Thursday.
It is the latest in a long string of environmental safety problems revealed by officials in Oregon’s largest school district this spring and summer. Radon is an invisible, odorless gas that occurs naturally in the ground. Exposure over long periods of time can lead to lung cancer. Even when vented 24 hours a day, the Lent office gave off radon readings at three time the federal danger threshold
Radon is an invisible, odorless gas that occurs naturally in the ground. Exposure over long periods of time can lead to lung cancer. Even when vented 24 hours a day, the Lent office gave off radon readings at three time the federal danger threshold. The cafeteria at Alliance High in Northeast Portland also has been closed after retests showed it also has persistent high radon readings.
The air in nearly 90 rooms in 15 Portland schools contained 4 or more picocuries radon per liter during tests run this spring. Federal guidelines call for action to lower radon readings if they are that high. District officials are still developing their plan for follow-up tests in most of those rooms, because the initial short-term test results are subject to wide margins of error.
At Lent, a K-8 school that is the only one in Portland Public Schools east of I-205, 12 rooms tested above that federal action limit. Two of them — the main office and a portable classroom — tested exceedingly high. But follow-up tests in the portable fell below the federal trigger. The two secretaries who work in the Lent School office, not children or parents who visited that room only intermittently, may have gotten significant exposure, health officials say. The 4 pc/liter threshold is calculated to prevent danger over a 70-year exposure, said Brett Sherry, Oregon Health Authority’s interim manager for environmental public health section who worked for many years as Oregon’s state radon coordinator.
A new law will require all Oregon schools to be tested for radon by 2020. Portland school officials decided to get an early start and conducted tests this spring in schools that had high radon readings many years ago. The Alliance High cafeteria and the Lent School office will remain closed until officials come up with a way to lower radon levels in those spaces. The National Cancer Institute warns that people who inhale high levels of radon are at an increased risk of developing lung cancer. Its radioactive particles damage lung tissue, the institute says. Scientists estimate that 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year are related to radon.
This has been a bad spring for environmental health and safety news in Portland Public Schools. In addition to radon, the district gave some students and employees lead-tainted water to drink and left others be exposed to even more dangerous lead paint dust and debris. Due in part to Portland’s problem with tainted drinking water in schools, the state Board of Education moved Thursday toward requiring all Oregon schools to test for lead.