Favorable radon gas test results place county schools ahead of the game, especially if proposed regulations to make testing mandatory become law.
High levels of the potentially cancer-causing gas were found in only one school building last year.
Currently, no state legislation requires schools to test for the colorless, odorless gas, but the procedure is encouraged by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. So far, only Colorado and Florida have such laws on the books.
But the pending Radon Testing for Safe Schools Act would require that state schools in areas with elevated levels of radon make test results available to the public by 1993.
"There are no requirements for us to do this, but it makes sense," school system Director of Operations Robert F. Reese said. Plus, he noted, should testing become a requirement, the school system should have procedures ready -- to avoid having to hire an outside contractor.
"It's the same reason we are beginning to recycle," he said.
While students studied, the lightweight black canisters in all first-floor classrooms and basements monitored the air to make sure the radon gas levels were within safe limits.
The results of six months of testing last year, in all county schools, yield little cause for concern, Reese said.
The gas is naturally produced by the radioactive decay of uranium. High concentrations may be found in soils and rocks containing granite, shale and phosphate.
Reese attributed the low radon readings to sandy soil concentrations in most of the county.
"There is no area in the county that is especially susceptible," Reese said. "The sandy soil helps, but the condition of the building is a factor."
Over the last school year, between October and March, about 5,000 tests were run in areas close to the ground, where radon gas may be most hazardous. Lung cancer is the only known threat produced by extensive exposure to radon, with a latency period of 10 to 20 years.
The tests, including the purchase of reuseable supplies and equipment, cost $20,000. About 140 operations employees, including head custodians, were involved. School principals were notified of testing procedures and results.
Reese said radon gas levels of 4.0 and under are considered safe. Crofton Junior High was the only school with readings above 4.0, and the school's readings measured only slightly above the mark.
"The one area we are concerned about is located in the teachers' workroom," Reese said, "but there is nothing to be concerned about. We are running a long-term test there to make sure the readings are accurate."
New tests will begin next week as part of an ongoing plan to make sure levels are safe. The preferred time for testing is in the fall and winter, when windows and doors are kept closed.
In the new round of tests, only 10 percent of the schools will be tested, based on positive readings from last year.