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NBC 10 I-Team: Lifespan pulls students out of North Providence school amid radon reports

North Providence High Schools is one of many schools that will be tested for asbestos and lead. (WJAR)

Lifespan pulled several special needs students from North Providence High School, after NBC 10 I-Team reported elevated levels of radon at the school.

Students in Bradley School’s individualized educational services program were slated to use one of the classrooms at the high school during the 2017-2018 school year beginning on August 30, but didn’t. Bradley Schools’ parent company, Lifespan School Solutions pulled out of the agreement after the school department notified it about radon in the school.

The NBC 10 I-Team uncovered elevated levels of radon in the school’s basement, where the students were slated to attend class. Documents obtained by the I-Team showed April 2016 testing of a basement classroom found radon measured 8.5 parts – a number above the EPA acceptable level of 4.

“The Bradley Schools learned before the start of the school year that high levels of radon had been found in a North Providence High School classroom used by Bradley Schools,” David Levesque, Lifespan’s director of communications told the NBC 10 I-Team. “We immediately made the decision to host our North Providence High School students at the Bradley School in Providence.”

Lifespan does not intend to return those students until it’s proven that radon in North Providence High School is under control.

“Bradley Schools will not return to the North Providence classroom until the district provides test results that demonstrate the problem had been mitigated,” Levesque added. “Bradley Schools currently has four students enrolled in our North Providence program, a partnership with the city that began in August of 2016.”

A history of elevated radon

Sources tell the I-Team there is currently no ventilation in those basement classrooms. And the I-Team uncovered a history of elevated levels of radon at the school dating back to 1992.

Radon measured 10.8 in the school’s kitchen in February 1992.

In March 1996 then-principal Deborah Pereira told the Health Department that the high school had undergone significant renovations and radon testing results, required by regulation, would soon be made available.

Those March 1996 results showed acceptable levels in all tested areas, except in a basement room, identified as either 07 or B005, which measured 4.8. (Identification of the basement rooms varies in town and state reports filed in different years.)

The school department requested a variance from the Rhode Island Department of Health to perform the necessary radon mitigation at the high school citing “a subsequent inspection of the room location reveals an unused access drain as the potential source of entrance of radon into the room.”

The request went on to say that a waiver be granted for mitigation of the location pending the sealing of the drain hole and performing a follow up test “to ensure the atmosphere is clear.”

The request was granted in 1998 with the conditions that the drain was sealed, another long term test performed in that location and if the result showed a level higher than 4, that mitigation would be completed in 1999.

Mitigation not complete

Four years passed and the mitigation work was not complete, according to documents obtained by the NBC 10 I-Team.

A September 2002 letter from the Rhode Island Health Department revealed that the school department had not fulfilled the conditions the agency set forth for North Providence High School in 1998 and found the school department was in violation.

The school department responded that same month and said it would work with a radon measurement consultant to develop a radon mitigation plan and would be in compliance by December 2002. December 2002 test showed Room B-07 had an acceptable level of 3.2 and Room B-05 had an acceptable level of 0.6.

Radon high, no mitigation

One year later in 2003, however, the radon in basement room 07 measured high again at 5.3. In September 2004, the North Providence School Department requested another a variance to mitigate the room, saying that its HVAC system supplying air “was not functioning for a long period of time.”

The Rhode Island Department of Health granted a variance with three conditions, that the HVAC problem be corrected, that another long term test be conducted in room B-07 and that if that test was higher than 4, mitigation needed to be done during the summer of 2005.

It is unclear if the HVAC work was ever completed or a long term test conducted, because neither the town, nor the department of health have any record of any test between 2003 and 2015 at North Providence High School.

The most recent radon report dated April 2016, shows room B05, also a basement classroom, measured positive for radon with a level of 8.5.

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