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Lincoln Public Schools has tested 36 of its schools for radon gas levels over the past school year, eight of which had levels that required some mitigation.

Operations Director Scott Wieskamp said in each case where levels were higher than 4.0 picocuries per liter of air — a level the Environmental Protection Agency has said is unacceptable — district staff conducted mitigation efforts. A picocurie is a common unit for measuring the amount of radioactivity.

Radon is a radioactive gas that forms naturally when uranium, thorium, or radium, break down in rocks, soil and groundwater. 

It is the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Surgeon General’s office estimate radon is responsible for more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S. People who smoke are at a greater risk.

The district has conducted more than 2,200 tests on those 36 schools, Wieskamp said, because numerous tests are conducted in one building.

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After taking measures to mitigate radon exposure where levels were too high, retesting showed all the areas were within the acceptable range, he said.

Mitigation procedures depended on the area but included inspecting mechanical systems and filling or sealing cracks or holes in the concrete or floors.

LPS began testing schools for radon after news reports last year showed that more than half the schools had either never been tested or hadn’t been tested for at least 25 years.

The district plans to test 17 more buildings by the end of the calendar year and will continue testing the remainder of the schools the following year, then retest schools on a three- to four-year cycle, Wieskamp said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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