Radon-detection devices installed in school Crofton Middle gets monitors 1 day after custodian's calls

October 01, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

The day after Anne Arundel County school officials suspended the head custodian for making incoherent calls about radon gas at Crofton Middle School, an environmental specialist yesterday installed radon-detection devices in the building.

Crofton Middle, as it turns out, is the only school in the county system being monitored regularly for radon.

Yesterday, Daniel A. La Hart, the schools' environmental program manager, put detection devices called canisters in three locations at the school.

He'll return to the 15-year-old school in the 2300 block of Davidsonville Road today to put them in every classroom. Radon levels are checked annually at Crofton, he said, the only building in the system that has ever shown any radon in the past.

About seven years ago, "we found in Crofton Middle there were two rooms that had elevated readings and we've taken steps to correct that situation," said schools facilities chief Ralph A. Luther, who could not remember the radon level.

Radon, which is considered to be the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoke, is a byproduct of decaying radium that leaks into buildings through cracks in foundations. It's controlled by running fans constantly and by overhauling heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems to keep more air circulating, which has been done at the school within the past three years, Luther said.

The most recent radon test results from June 5 showed as much as 2.8 picocuries per liter of air in parts of the school, according to La Hart. The national average level of radon gas inside buildings is 1.25 picocuries per liter, according to EPA spokeswoman Kristy L. Miller.

Crofton Middle's level "is certainly below our action level. If it's above 4 picocuries per liter, we recommend that homes, schools, or buildings be mitigated or reduced," she said.

Radon isn't the only air quality problem at Crofton Middle. Three weeks ago, faculty and students complained about unhealthy air. Mechanical dampers that bring in fresh air were found closed, and that problem has been fixed, Luther said.

Meanwhile, the school system took action yesterday against head custodian Michael W. Graham, 46, suspending him pending investigation.

The custodian's calls to school staffers over the weekend worried county police, who asked state troopers Monday to check on him. Troopers said they found him in his Henderson home smoking marijuana in his driveway. They said they also found 9.3 grams of what they believed was marijuana and a brass pipe in his car.

He was arrested on drug possession charges.

The Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office is investigating the calls to determine whether to file further charges against Graham, county police spokeswoman Carol Frye said.

Graham told the state police that he "wanted to let the people know about the radon gas and asbestos in schools," and that he was smoking marijuana "because he was poisoned with radon gas," according to a state trooper.

Graham could not be reached for comment.

Pub Date: 10/01/97

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