Lincoln Public Schools keeps pledge to ramp up radon testing

Updated: Mar. 16, 2023 at 5:30 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Every year, a radon tester places hundreds of little cardboard envelopes around Lincoln Public School buildings. Inside, essentially a tea bag filled with carbon, with one job.

“It lets the air in and inside that are all these tiny little grains of carbon that collect radon out of the air,” Stephen Sycuro, a certified radon measurement professional said.

Because each school needs tests throughout the building, the district does between 1,100 and 1,500 tests a year, costing up to $37,500 total.

Scott Wieskamp, Director of Operations for LPS said it’s worth the money and effort to test because radon can cause cancer when there’s too much of it in the air.

“It matters for health,” Wieskamp said. “You know, there are over 20,000 deaths annually to lung cancer that are non-smoking. So those are people that are non-smoking that get lung cancer and a lot of that is due to radon... So it’s important to keep our students healthy, our staff healthy.”

In Nebraska, it’s even more critical.

“We have some uranium rich soil in Nebraska,” Ellen Zoeller DHHS Radon and Indoor Air Program Manager said. “So as uranium decays it releases soil gas and radon can be trapped in homes and basements.”

Radon is measured in picocuries per liter, the Environmental Protection Agency has said health risks are low at levels under 4.0 pci/l.

10/11 obtained all of the most recent test results for Lincoln Public Schools and learned after a 2018 10/11 investigation into radon testing in the district, all schools have been tested in the last five years, with future tests scheduled.

Out of the results for a 63 buildings, 45 rooms had levels of radon too low to measure. 15 had levels over 3.0 and three schools had readings at or close to 4.0 pci/l.

LPS policy is to take a second test if the first is at or close to 4.0. They then take the average of those two to get their final result. If either the first test or the average is above 4.0, mitigation efforts will start.

“In terms of checking those spaces where the high results were for maybe cracks in the floors, or maybe there’s a pipe penetration from a tunnel below that needs to be sealed, we make sure that the ventilation system is working properly because it really is about fresh air and ventilation in space to eliminate the radon,” Wieskamp said.

The three schools with levels hovering around the EPA limit have all had subsequent results under 4.0 that comply with both LPS policies and EPA standards.

Wieskamp said the district is generally lucky when it comes to radon levels thanks to district wide upgrades in ventilation systems.