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MSD doesn't test for radon, but will

I know that Medford's schools have been tested for lead in the water, but now I see that radon is a potential issue. Is Medford testing for that as well?

— Kathy, Medford

The Medford School District does not currently test for radon, but under House Bill 2931, it will be required to by Jan. 1, 2021.

The bill, passed in 2015, and the subsequent Oregon Revised Statute 332.166-16 require districts to submit plans for testing to Oregon Health Authority by Sept. 1 and measure schools for elevated levels of radon by 2021. (Schools that have been tested for radon since Jan. 1, 2006, are exempt.)

In fall 2014, the Oregon School Boards Association asked the school district to submit a report, including the number of ground floor rooms, as legislators determined the cost of radon testing in schools.

“The Medford School District determined it has 1,724 rooms that would need to be tested for radon,” said district spokeswoman Natalie Hurd in an email. “Although the state has not finalized plans to require radon testing or supply districts with the funds to do so, the MSD Facilities Department is working on a radon testing plan for all schools and to update its current Health and Safety Facilities Plan to include radon testing as outlined by draft state guidelines.”

Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, radioactive gas that comes from uranium deposits in the soil. Uranium decays into radium, which eventually breaks down into radon that travels through the soil and can enter building through cracks and openings in the foundation. Once radon is released into the air, it decays further, producing energy particles that release radiation. Prolonged exposure to elevated levels of radon causes an increased risk of lung cancer, according to an OHA document.

The document also stated that the Environmental Protection Agency “estimates that 21,000 radon-related lung cancer deaths occur each year in the United States.”

Scary, right? But, thankfully, districts will be addressing this shortly.

In the meantime, the district has invested about $10,000 into testing water fixtures at every school for lead. The results of these tests will be available on the district’s website.

For more information online on Oregon's new radon testing protocols, see https://public.health.oregon.gov/HealthyEnvironments/HealthyNeighborhoods/RadonGas/Pages/Testing-in-Schools-.aspx.

— Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.