Radon has dropped to safe levels at Zephyr Cove Elementary School | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Radon has dropped to safe levels at Zephyr Cove Elementary School

Kurt Hildebrand / The Record-Courier

Radon at Zephyr Cove Elementary School is back down to acceptable levels, and the Lake Tahoe school will open for the fall semester on Wednesday.

The Douglas County School District received a letter from the state Department of Health and Human Services saying that all test results in the school were half the radon limit on Aug. 11, the deadline to determine if students would attend Zephyr Cove this year.

Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas produced by the decomposition

of uranium.

Zephyr Cove long has had issues with the gas, partly because of the numerous crawl spaces and additions. The Douglas County School District was one of the first in the state to test for radon in 1989 when levels reached 25 picocuries per liter. Under normal conditions, it was the equivalent of smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day, according to a consultant.

School district Superintendent Carol Lark said a group of volunteer scientists arrived at Zephyr Cove to help mitigate the radon.

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William Bell of the Conference of the Radiation Control Protection Directors, a nonprofit organization dedicated to radiation protection issues, reported that previous efforts to control the gas had been ineffective.

Members of Bell’s team included Adrian Howe and Eric Matus of Nevada’s state health department, Bob Stilwell and George Faggella. They worked with district staff to install a system that prevents the radon from entering the building in six buildings.

“The EPA sent in a team that included one man from Massachusetts and another

from California,” Lark said. “They all came together as professionals to help us. They are not even paid employees; they are dedicated scientists who worked closely with our state department of health.”

Results of testing after the team completed its work showed radon levels of

less than 2 picocuries per liter of air.

“It turned out so well, they said they were considering using it as a training site for radon mitigation,” Lark said.

District Chief Financial Officer Holly Luna and Gary Cullen were instrumental in working with the team.

Lark said the district wants to hire a consultant to help sell Kingsbury, which closed in June.

Radon became a political issue last spring when parents argued in favor of closing Zephyr Cove and keeping Kingsbury open. The district preferred to close the middle school, even though it’s the newer building, because Zephyr Cove is across the street from Whittell High School.

Closure of the school was forced by decreasing enrollment at Lake Tahoe.