District 51 schools have not been tested for radon in about a decade, are they safe?

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO/KJCT)-- Radon is a carcinogen, one you cannot see, taste or smell.

"It's the second leading (environmental) cause of lung cancer behind cigarettes," said Cory Lindbo, owner of Western Slope Home Inspections and Radon Services.

It seeps up from the ground as decayed uranium, that eventually turns into radon gas. The entire state of Colorado has high concentrations of it. On the Western Slope, there is a rich history of uranium, uranium mining and using the tailings in the foundations of buildings, like schools.

Grand Junction High School was one of those when it was being constructed. District 51 had to do some mitigation work, but the radon levels were pretty high a few decades ago.

Colorado instated a law that schools have to test for radon. In 1989 GJHS had 11 samples test higher than four picocuries, the EPA’s "safe standard."

In December 1993, there were six samples that tested above four picocuries. The district installed a mitigation system and required follow-up sampling, but those samples stopped in 2009, when they found two samples about four picocuries.

"Ten (picocuries) is equivalent to a pack of cigarettes a day," said Lindbo.

"A lot of the tests came back below four picocuries per liter, so because of that, we felt they were safe and didn't need to retest,” said Emily Shockley, D51, talking about testing all of the schools.

Bookcliff Middle School had 11 samples higher than four picocuries in 1989. By 2009, there were none.

Central High School had four samples above the safe limit in 1989, and none in 2006, the last time it was tested.

At Chatfield Elementary, there were six samples above the safe limit. There were two in 2009, the last time it was tested. The district required long-term sampling in the speech and special education departments.

“The state actually doesn't require any mitigation or retesting efforts, but we do those just to make sure the kids are extra safe," said Shockley.

Colorado statute requires all schools to test for radon, but the statute doesn't “require schools to mitigate, so it's up to the school district and its constituents to address mitigation issues,” according to the state website.

Lindbo, however, knows all too well that radon levels can change.

"I'd recommend testing every few years anyway just to see because you never know," said Lindbo.

District 51 does have to test new buildings within 19 months of that building being occupied—so the next ones to be tested will be the additions to Palisade High School, Dual Immersion and the new Orchard Mesa Middle School. Experts said the best time to test for radon is in January.

To see a breakdown of the radon data for all the schools in District 51, look at the attachment on the side of the article.

If you’re curious about how to test your home or office for radon, follow the link on the side of the article.

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