High levels of radon, an odorless, natural gas that can increase an individual's lung cancer risk, have been found again in at least three areas of Crofton Junior High School.
"Our recommendation is certainly not to panic, but to take action in a reasonable amount of time," said Michael Boyd, a health physicist with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
"I am concerned," said parent Joyce Everitt, whose daughter is one of 720 students at the 8-year-old school. "I'm concerned that if they take all the children out of school, where would they put them? I just don't know. I have mixed emotions.
"What else can I do?," she asked. "I don't want to take her out of school. I don't know which is worse."
The test results were released yesterday by school Supervisor of Operations Robert Reese, who said crews will be following federal Environmental Protection Agency standards to lower the radon levels.
The retest was required after tests last year showed the school on Davidsonville Road in Crofton was the only one in the county with levels of the colorless gas above federal standards.
The EPA's Boyd said his agency's standards recommend that radon levels be less than 4.0, to reduce the risks of lung cancer associated with extensive exposure to radon. Results of 4.1 have been calculated by the EPA to be equal to smoking 10 cigarettes daily over a 70-year life span.
Reese said two areas in the school's Math Department and the right side of the media center were found to have radon levels ranging from 4.3 to 6.1 -- well above EPA guidelines.
"We have done a complete and thorough recalculation," Reese said. "We will begin mitigation and abatement efforts that include checking for cracks where the slab and wall meet and sealing them.
"That's where we can get openings (where radon can leak in). That's the area we are talking about for corking. The purpose of the mitigation work is to find the problem areas and correct it. The work orders have been issued and work is commencing."
Everitt said she is satisfied with updates from school principal Stanley Christy obtained through the school newsletter and during her frequent visits, but she knows the problem is still on the minds of students.
"They were thinking about a walkout, but I don't think kids at that age can do it," she said. "They don't have the gumption and are afraid of detention and suspension."
A few weeks ago, about 250 Meade Senior students protested conditions at their school, including a leaky roof under repair. School board members promised the building would be checked whenever it rains.
But when it comes to radon gas, correction measures and safe school levels are still a matter for debate. Testing schools for radon is still on a voluntary basis in the state.
The problem also is complicated by a lack of guidelines from the EPA on what to do when high levels are found.
"There is not a person on this earth that can give you an assessment of the risk," Reese said. "My belief is that it is absolutely minimal, based on documentation.
"It would be nice if we had additional and reliable information from the EPA or a data source," he said. "I feel comfortable about the kids using the sites. Long before schools started testing, my house was tested. Today, I have higher levels in my house than there are in the school."