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Radon Tests Begin at Boulder Hill; State Expert to Arrive Wednesday

Patrick Daniels to answer public questions. Results of latest tests at school due Thursday.

The Oswego District 308 School Board’s plan to re-test for high radon levels is under way. In addition to the two companies hired for the job, the board is bringing in an expert: Patrick Daniels of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

Daniels will be at Boulder Hill Elementary at 7 p.m. Wednesday to host an open session with parents, teachers, staffers and other concerned community members. He also will sit in on a special board meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. to review the latest radon tests at the school.

Daniels is the head of the IEMA’s radon program, and considered a top authority in the state on the subject. He is headed to the Fox Valley on the state’s dime, according to Bill Walsh, president of the Oswego School Board.

Daniels’ involvement is good news for school board members, who face a difficult challenge: they must determine whether Boulder Hill Elementary will be safe for students and teachers to start school Aug. 24. If it’s not, they must either make it safe by then, or come up with an alternate plan.

They’re under considerable public pressure to do so. When the district initially tested Boulder Hill Elementary for radon in May and June, they hired its go-to architecture firm, Wight and Co., who in turn hired contractor Dave Sloman to conduct the tests. His results showed high radon levels in five rooms, with results as high as 11.8 picocuries per liter of air.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends action if levels reach 4.0 picocuries per liter.

However, as came to light last week, Sloman was not a state-licensed radon detector at the time of the tests. Daniels confirmed this in an email to Supt. Dan O’Donnell on Thursday, saying the IEMA would consider any tests done by an unlicensed contractor to be invalid.

O’Donnell said the email from Daniels was the first time he became aware of the problem with Sloman’s credentials.

Eric Lewandowski, owner of Professional Radon Systems and a licensed radon mitigator, said that those first two tests were performed incorrectly, and likely returned results that were artificially high. For one thing, Lewandowski said, the school’s HVAC system was not running during the tests, which would throw off the results.

Lewandowski said he searched for Sloman’s name on the state’s list of licensed contractors more than three weeks ago, when he was first hired to mitigate the building, and didn’t find it. And he didn’t keep that information quiet.

“I informed Roger [Genschoreck, of Wight and Co.] the tests were invalid three weeks ago,” Lewandowski said Friday. In fact, he said, that’s why a third test was performed in July by a different company—Radon Detection Specialists of Burr Ridge, whom Lewandowski recommended.

That test came back clean—no rooms in Boulder Hill Elementary showed radon levels above the EPA standard.

Lewandowski said he urged Genschoreck to tell someone in the school district that the first two tests were invalid, but got no response.

“That would have resolved all these problems weeks ago,” he said.

Genschoreck could not be reached for comment.

Lewandowski said he also informed Bill Baumann, District 308’s director of building and grounds, of the issue more than a week ago as well, before the public outcry began.

According to Kristine Liptrot, the district’s director of communications, Baumann spent the intervening days trying to confirm whether Sloman was licensed, and did not say anything until he locked down that information.

She said Baumann’s confirmation came the same day Daniels’ email did. That, she said, is the correct procedure for District 308 staff to follow—confirm the information before sharing it.

Liptrot reiterated that the district administration did not know about the issue until last Thursday, when Daniels' email arrived.

Walsh said he was also unaware of Sloman’s lack of credentials before last Thursday. He said he did not know anyone else in the district had that information until after Thursday’s special meeting.

Walsh said the district would not pay for Wight’s time, or for the first two tests. He said the school board would address concerns with Wight and Co. after the immediate problems at Boulder Hill Elementary were taken care of.

“It’s concerning to me,” Walsh said. “We will take appropriate steps to make sure it won’t happen again.”

First, however, the school board must see through an aggressive schedule of testing at Boulder Hill. Two companies—Radon Detection Specialists, and Radon Testers of Wheaton—began gathering data on Monday, and will wrap up Wednesday.

The results of those tests should be in the school board’s hands before Thursday’s special meeting.

Depending on the results, the board will then take whatever action is necessary to make the school safe, Walsh said.

“The board and administration will do whatever is needed to ensure the safety of everyone involved,” he said.

Patrick Daniels will meet with community members at Boulder Hill Elementary, 163 Boulder Hill Pass, at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Oswego School Board will meet at 6 p.m.Thursday at Oswego East High School, 1525 Harvey Road, to discuss results of the latest radon tests. Both meetings are open to the public.

Michele Cronsell August 16, 2011 at 10:00 PM
How do two teachers who taught in the same room for many years both have lung cancer? If not the radon, then what? Coincidence? I went to Boulder Hill as a child and all of my children have, or do still attend. Yes, the teachers are there for much longer than our kids, but many of our kids are there for six years from kindergarten to 5th grade. This worries me, but I am confident that our school district will use the results for the best of our kids. Still scary...
Todd August 16, 2011 at 11:05 PM
I get concerned with such differing results and the knowledge that money is involved in the equation. We are all cash strapped when it comes to schools and I fear that we will make decisions / test results to satisfy our budgets. Fact is, we are in a Radon rich location and this can't be taken lightly. I find it hard to believe that simply running the HVAC will reduce the amount of Radon in the school as mentioned in this article. Frankly, most office buildings turn off their HVAC after certain hours and most likely impacting the hard working teachers who stay late when the HVAC is off. Doesn't feel right to me just yet

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