School works to plug radon leak: Officials wait to hear if concrete sealant is working at Zephyr Cove Elementary |

School works to plug radon leak: Officials wait to hear if concrete sealant is working at Zephyr Cove Elementary

Adam Jensen

Parents of Zephyr Cove Elementary School students will have to wait a week to find out if initial measures to reduce the levels of a radioactive gas at the school have been effective.

Radon is a naturally occurring gas released from the Lake Tahoe Basin’s abundant granite-based soil. The gas can accumulate to potentially hazardous levels in poorly ventilated rooms and is recognized as the second-leading cause of lung cancer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

RadonSeal, a concrete sealant that, according to manufacturer claims, will prevent radon from leaking into structures, was applied to foundations underneath three rooms at the school three weeks ago.

Rooms treated with the sealant will be tested for the presence of radon over the weekend and the results are expected back as soon as Sept. 14, according to Larry Thir with Environmental Inspection and Control Services.

The company has been hired to test the school for radon.

Both short-term and long-term tests completed over the past year on untreated rooms have confirmed the school contains levels of radon gas above indoor air quality standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“It’s elevated, but it’s not screaming, it’s not red hot,” Thir said at a Zephyr Cove Elementary School Parents Club meeting on Wednesday evening. “It’s definitely cause for concern, there’s no doubt about it,” he added.

During the meeting, concerned parents peppered Thir and school district officials with questions about the accuracy of radon testing, plans for long-term monitoring and the effectiveness of RadonSeal.

“I’d like to say I’m feeling really comfortable after this presentation, but I’m not,” said Greg Felton, a parent of a Zephyr Cove Elementary School student.

Radon mitigation measures for raised floor surfaces have already begun at the school, according to Nancy Cauley, principal of Zephyr Cove Elementary School.

The mitigation measures for these surfaces typically include the installation of ventilation systems, but lowering the levels of radon coming from slab foundations can be more complicated.

Much of the elementary school is built on such foundations and would require ventilation systems impractical for a complex of its size, according to Thir.

The RadonSeal could be a more practical fix for the school, but it remains unproven.

“Keep your fingers crossed that this RadonSeal is going to work,” Thir said.

If next week’s results show that levels of radon have decreased but remain above EPA standards, a second layer of RadonSeal could be applied, Thir said.

If this second treatment still does not bring radon within acceptable levels, Carol Lark, superintendent of Douglas County School District, indicated she would meet with advisers to assess the best way to move forward in mitigating radon at the school.

Parents and school officials agreed long-term monitoring, to ensure any radon mitigation implemented on a large scale at the school is effective, would be in students’ best interest.

“Our children’s safety comes absolutely first,” Lark said at the meeting.

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