NBC 10 I-Team: Radon levels to be retested at North Providence school

Elevated levels of radon were measured in two classrooms in Whelan Elementary School. (WJAR)

The North Providence School Department will retest radon levels at Whelan Elementary School, the department's superintendent wrote in a letter to families and faculty of the school.

In a letter obtained by the NBC 10 I-Team, Superintendent Bridget Morisseau said, "Out of an abundance of caution, we have adjusted the timeline and have scheduled retesting for this September, over a year earlier than recommended."

The move comes after an NBC 10 I-Team investigation into a number of teachers, faculty and former students who have been diagnosed with various forms of cancers. Part of that investigation uncovered elevated radon levels at Whelan and Stephen Olney elementary schools.

Elevated levels of radon were found in two ground-floor classrooms at Whelan and in the southeast, center and northwest crawl space at Olney. Asbestos was also found in Whelan, Olney and McGuire.

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that schools act to reduce the level of radon when levels are 4 pCi/L.

According to reports obtained by the NBC 10 I-Team, a March 2016 radon test at Whelan detected levels in classrooms of 5.4 and 6.1. At Stephen Olney, during a May 2017 test, the levels were 4.8, 5.5 and 6.3.

"You will note that there are two rooms 13 and 14 that show slightly elevated radon. My understanding was that these readings were not a concern and no remedial action was warranted," John McNamee, the North Providence department director of finance, previously told the NBC 10 I-Team.

Per the EPA, when radon levels in a school reach 4 pCi/L or higher, but are below 10 pCi/L, a follow-up test should be conducted during the school year and within the nine months immediately following the initial test period. If the follow-up measurement is also higher than 4, a diagnostic test needs to be conducted and a mitigation strategy implemented.

Morisseau's letter to parents and faculty dated July 11 says, "Following that 2016 test, Ocean State Analytic Services followed the (Rhode Island Department of Health) and EPA protocol and conducted long-term testing in these areas. The results from these tests indicated that radon levels were below the EPA action threshold and did not require mitigation."

But McNamee, in an email to the NBC 10 I-Team, confirmed there were no tests conducted after March 2016 and that no radon reports were received for Whelan regarding any radon testing since March 2016. The NBC 10 I-Team is working to reconcile the differing statements.

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