Elevated radon levels found in Vermont elementary school

BRANDON, Vt. (WCAX) Some parents in Rutland County are raising concerns after an elementary school there found elevated levels of a cancer-causing gas. Our Cat Viglienzoni found out why students are still in class.

Parents at the Neshobe School in Brandon received some alarming news just after the holidays. Superintendent Jeanne Collins says the school had volunteered for radon testing in early December.

"We jumped on board and Neshobe said, 'Yes, we'd like to be tested.' We didn't have any particular concerns, we just thought it was a good idea," Collins said.

It turned out to be a good idea because they caught a problem that, over time, could have been a big concern-- elevated levels of radon, an odorless, colorless gas that has been linked to lung cancer.

"We immediately took several steps," Collins said.

They notified families and contacted radon experts to set up more testing. They also started running the school's air system to disperse the gas.

Classes are still in session.

"There is no imminent health risk," Collins said.

That's because the health department says it takes many years to cause harm.

"We're talking about a lifetime of exposure to radon," said Michelle Thompson, a public health industrial hygienist with the Vermont Department of Health.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: So parents should still send their kids to school tomorrow?
Michelle Thompson: Yes, they should still be attending school. Radon is not an immediate health concern.

Thompson heads the Vermont Health Department's radon testing program for schools. She tells WCAX News this isn't an isolated incident. She says since 2005, they've tested 85 schools. And 11 of those, including Neshobe, have found high levels of radon. All of them have fixed or in Neshobe's case are in the process of fixing them.

The testing takes readings each hour to see how activity during and after the school day affects radon levels.

"There can be different levels of radon depending on the time of day and how the ventilation system operates," Thompson explained.

Back in Brandon, some families we spoke with expressed concern over the news.

"I guess anything helps. I wish I knew more about what acceptable levels were and that," grandparent Ralph Ethier said.

Others said they're confident their children are safe.

"I went to this school, my husband went to this school, hundreds of thousands of kids went here and they're fine. Not too concerned about it," parent Kelsey Foley said.

School is only the second-biggest exposure to radon for kids. The home is number one according to the health department. So they advise parents to test if they haven't done so recently. You can get a free kit from the health department to do that. Click here for more information.