Test reveals high radon levels
The Washington City Council discussed the high radon level in the dispatch center at its meeting Wednesday night. The dispatch center was tested for radon a few weeks ago, and the results of the test were made public Tuesday. The test revealed that the first floor of the dispatch center has a radon level of 9.3 pCi/L (picoCuries per liter).
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends taking corrective measures to reduce radon levels if they are 4.0 pCi/L or above. Radon gas is the leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. The EPA estimates that radon claimed the lives of 20,000 Americans in 2009 through lung cancer. Of these, about 2,900 were people who had never smoked.
In a phone interview Thursday, Washington County Supervisor Wes Rich said he asked the radon testers – Breathe Easy Radon Testing in Kalona – to check for the gas on the first floor. Previous radon tests were confined to the basement of the dispatch center.
“I’m totally shocked that the level of radon is that high on the first floor,” said Rich. “I didn’t expect to find radon upstairs. I was hoping to prove there was no radon upstairs. We have sent a letter to the occupants of the building that they need to be aware this radon level exists.”
Rich said he has since spoken to companies that deal with radon mitigation equipment. He said one company offered to begin installation as early as next week. Rich said the issue will be on the supervisors’ agenda for Tuesday’s meeting at 9:30 a.m. He has asked for estimates of the cost of the necessary mitigation equipment. The most recent estimate was $3,600, down from several years ago when he received an estimate of $8,000.
Rich said a number of radon tests have been done on the basement, and that they have ranged from 3 to 6 pCi/L. He said radon levels vary depending on the season. Radon concentrations are higher when homes are sealed up and prevent indoor air from escaping outside.
Radon is a naturally occurring gas that is both colorless and odorless. It is produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. When radon decays into radioactive solids, it can attach to dust particles that find their way into a person’s lungs. Radon can find its way from the soil into a home through crawl spaces and cracks in the foundation, and can even seep in through the concrete.
There is a crawl space in the dispatch center that is exposed directly to the dirt and not covered with concrete.
At Wednesday’s council meeting, Police Chief Greg Goodman said a radon test was done on the building in 2003 and revealed its radon level was above the limit. In a phone interview Thursday, he said a portion of the basement tested at 4.1 pCi/L and another portion tested at 6.2 pCi/L. Another test was conducted several months later that year which indicated roughly the same radon level.
Former Sheriff Yale Jarvis said in an interview Thursday that he sent a letter to the supervisors after the test, recommending that steps be taken to mitigate the radon level in the building.
Rich said that the last time the basement was tested was in 2009, and at that time its radon reading was below 4 pCi/L.
For more, see our Nov. 18 print edition.