Workroom at West Union Elementary will be re-tested after results were slightly higher than normal.

        Hillsboro School District officials have released the first results in a series of tests for radon in its schools.

Only one school, West Union Elementary, will need follow-up testing.

The district released test results for 13 schools, as well as the district's facilities office off Brookwood Parkway last week. The test plans to test each of its schools at least once over the next several years.

Radon, a colorless, odorless radioactive gas, comes from naturally occurring uranium deposits in the soil, but it can mean big problems for people exposed to it.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung center in the U.S., behind smoking, causing an estimated 21,000 deaths each year.

Under an Oregon law passed in 2015, school districts are required to test radon levels in each of its buildings by 2021 and submit plans to the Oregon Health Authority to combat high radon emissions within schools.

The school district plans to test a handful of schools each year through 2020, according to spokeswoman Beth Graser. The district's plan, which was filed with the state last year, calls for testing every ground-floor classroom over the next several years, she said.

"In the past we would do sampling of rooms ... now we're doing every ground floor-level space," Graser told the Tribune. "It's the same way we test for lead in water now. We used to do spot testing and counted that as good, but now it's much more comprehensive. We've since come to learn that spot testing doesn't always identify all the areas that need addressing."

Last week, the district released test results for Eastwood, Jackson, Lenox, McKinney, Mooberry, North Plains, Orenco, Patterson, Quatama and West Union elementary schools, as well as Evergreen Middle School, Glencoe and Liberty high schools and the district's facilities office.

Under the law, the district must re-test schools if results show a concentration of 4.0 picocuries per liter of air.

Each of tested schools had results showing fewer than 4.0, according to the district, but West Union Elementary School's staff workroom did receive a test result of between 4.0 and 4.5, requiring follow-up testing.

District officials have said they plan to do long-term testing in that room. In a letter sent to Executive Director of Facilities, Safety and Operations Casey Waletich on Nov. 7, testing firm PBS Engineering and Environmental suggested that the district perform a long-term test of that room, with devices measuring radon emissions for as long as nine months. If those results show equal or greater radon levels, the district should take steps to address the issue, the report read.

"We want to keep our students and staff and schools as safe as possible," Graser said.

By Geoff Pursinger
Associate Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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