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Berkeley County Health Dept. building tests high for radon

February 01, 2001

Berkeley County Health Dept. building tests high for radon



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Computerized air-quality tests done at the Berkeley County Health Department building have confirmed levels of radon almost four times higher than the acceptable maximum.

Health Department Office Manager Bill Kearns said tests run last weekend showed levels of radon as high as 14.5 picacuries. The average over 48 hours was 8.7, he said.

"Anything over four is something that requires immediate attention," Kearns said. "This was more than twice what it should be."

Radon is an odorless, colorless gas produced by cracks in limestone or uranium, Kearns said. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer, he said.

"It is a big concern," Kearns said.

The Health Department building is part of a complex of county buildings and an elementary school at 802 S. Queen St. The Health Department building and school are built on top of a quarry.

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Kearns said the other buildings are not, although county Facilities Manager Walt Davis said limestone can be found everywhere in the area.

Kearns said 16 people work in the Health Department building. None has reported any health problems that can be traced to radon.

Kearns said the school has a venting system in place to take care of any radon in that building.

Davis said the county is testing the air quality in the adjacent county building that houses the Office of Emergency Services and Sheriff's Office.

He said the county can probably fix the problem in the Health Department building for about $1,000. He will ask the commissioners today for permission to proceed. They are expected to discuss it today.

About a year and a half ago, the department received a grant to purchase radon-detection kits that could be given to homeowners. The department also teaches school children about radon.

While the department was handing out the kits, it tested its own building, he said. That first test and two others showed high levels of radon, he said. But Health Department officials were uncertain whether the tests were accurate.

So the county recently authorized a more sophisticated test, measuring air-quality samples by computer over a 48-hour period. That's when the extent of the problem was confirmed, he said.

The radon is one of several issues facing the county related to its buildings.

The building at 126 W. King St. has bad air and sewer gas problems. Employees at the building at 110. W. King St. also report sewer gas problems. Other buildings are overcrowded with both staff and records. Some county officials have expressed concerns about security in their buildings.

The County Commissioners are considering building a new county judicial center, possibly across King Street from the courthouse complex.

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