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EPA Awards Belchertown Schools "Radon in Schools Excellence Award" Action Protects Community's School Children and Workers

Release Date: 01/25/2005
Contact Information:

Contact: David Deegan, EPA Office of Public Affairs, (617) 918-1017

Richard Pazasis, Superintendent, Belchertown Public Schools, 413-323-0423

For Immediate Release: January 25, 2005; Release # dd050106

Boston - The United States Environmental Protection Agency awarded the Belchertown, Mass. School District the National "EPA Indoor Environments -- Radon in Schools Excellence Award" for its exemplary efforts to identify and promptly mitigate elevated levels of radon gas at one of its elementary schools. The district's efforts successfully reduced elevated levels of radon, a naturally-occurring radio-active gas, to well below EPA's safety standards at the Swift River Elementary School.

In Jan. 2003, Belchertown school officials, after learning about health risks to students, faculty and staff from radon exposure, contacted the Mass. Dept. of Public Health and requested radon testing kits. Tests revealed that in 34 of 87 locations at the Swift River Elementary School, radon levels were above the EPA action level of 4 picocuries per liter. All of the other schools tested were below EPA's action level. Once informed of the elevated radon levels at Swift River, school officials took immediate steps to prevent radon soil gas from entering the school.

"Addressing elevated radon levels in indoor air is important, simple and inexpensive," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England office. "By using an approach that was prompt, effective and communicative, the Belchertown School District helped to keep their community informed, and their children safe. Their proactive leadership concerning radon exposure for both students and faculty serves as a model for how a school system can best identify and remediate radon in the indoor environment."

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Radiation Control Program provided technical support to the school district facilities' staff. In the summer of 2003, radon mitigation systems were completed in the Swift River Elementary School. Follow-up radon testing in 2004 verified that the mitigation system is functioning successfully and continuing to provide active protection from radon exposure to the students and staff.

USEPA Indoor Environments Program Director Tom Kelly presented the award to Belchertown Public Schools stating, "The success of this project is directly attributable to the commitment, leadership and dedication of Superintendent Richard Pazasis and the staff of the Belchertown School Department. These people take their responsibility for protecting students, staff and their community seriously."

Accepting the award on behalf of the school district, Richard A. Pazasis, Superintendent of Schools for Belchertown stated, "On behalf of everyone connected with the School District, I am proud we are being recognized with this award. Belchertown consistently adheres to its number one district-wide goal, to protect the health and safety of all students, school personnel, and visitors. This goal includes paying attention to the ever-changing environmental challenges which face schools. I thank everyone who worked with us to make this effort a success."

Radon is a radioactive, invisible and odorless gas that comes from the decay of naturally-occurring uranium in the earth's soil, and it can accumulate in homes and buildings at dangerous levels. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., with about 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year attributable to radon exposure. In New England alone, about 1000 people die each year from lung cancer due to radon exposure.

Because most radon exposure occurs at home, EPA urges all New Englanders to test for radon gas in their homes as well as in schools and other buildings. Simple, inexpensive do-it-yourself radon test kits are available at some hardware stores and from credentialed radon testing laboratories. Because radon levels tend to be highest in winter, now is a good time to test for radon. January is National Radon Action Month.

EPA recommends that homes with radon levels of four picocuries per liter or higher be fixed to prevent accumulation of radon gas indoors. More information about radon is available at: or by calling the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Radon Hotline at 1-800-723-6695.

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