Fairfax County

The following was among actions taken at the Oct. 15 meeting of the Fairfax County School Board. For more information, call 691-2991.

RADON TESTING -- Present radon levels in the county's 178 schools are "not a significant problem," the board was told by Assistant Superintendent Alton Hlavin, despite initial reports that potentially dangerous levels of the colorless, odorless radioactive gas were detected at several county schools.

In a report to the board, Hlavin criticized as misinformed a Sept. 30 report issued by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers on the results of the school system's radon tests.

The federation's report identified 10 schools that had shown potentially hazardous levels of radon, a gas produced by the breakdown of uranium deposits in the soil, which has been linked to lung cancer. The report said two readings each at Lee High School in Springfield and Belvedere Elementary School in Falls Church had radon readings above four picocuries per liter of air. The EPA has determined that in homes, a level of four picocuries per liter of air requires further monitoring and a level of 20 or more picocuries requires preventive action. No EPA standards exist for schools.

The federation said tests at three other schools, West Springfield Elementary, Thoreau Intermediate in Vienna, and Westgate Elementary in Falls Church, had shown readings above four picocuries and had not been retested. Five other schools had one test result above four picocuries and a lower result in a later test, according to the federation's report.

But Hlavin said subsequent tests at all 10 schools had found levels below four picocuries.

"Our first assessment is -- and it doesn't mean it will be our last or only assessment -- that there is not a significant problem," Hlavin said after the meeting. He said the schools would continue to monitor radon levels at the 10 affected schools, and would probably monitor levels at other schools with lower readings as well.

"It would be false to say OK, we're all fine now," he said. If future readings approached the 20 picocurie level, preventive measures would be taken, he said. These measures could include sealing foundation cracks to ensure the gas does not seep up from the ground, ventilating foundations to remove the gas if it does, or improving air conditioning systems so radon gas would flow out from buildings.