Derry school Radon shock

Education chiefs have refused to disclose the names of three Derry primary schools where action is currently being taken to address radon gas readings above the recommended levels, the Journal has learned.

The Western Education and Library Board (WELB) yesterday confirmed that radon had been found in three schools in the Derry area. But they declined to name the schools involved saying they had been unable to contact the school’s principals following our query.

Radon - a naturally occurring gas emitted from the decay of uranium in soil - is reportedly the second biggest cause of lung cancer after smoking in Ireland and is directly linked to about 200 lung cancer deaths each year.

Over the summer months WELB have been conducting radon tests in all their school buildings. That process is due to be completed before pupils return to class in September.

A WELB spokeswoman says extraction systems have been fitted in the three affected schools where radon levels exceeded the 400 Becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3) level.

“In workplaces (e.g. schools) the presence of radon above 400Bq/m3 requires to be reduced by the installation of radon extraction systems. In respect of the schools in the Derry area there are three primary schools which have radon extraction systems fitted,” the WELB spokeswoman said. She said radon levels will be monitored over the next three months in each of the schools.

Meanwhile the Department of Education also declined to name the affected schools. A spokeswoman said the Department takes “very seriously any potential risk to the health of all pupils and staff.”

“To this end, there have been a number of radon surveys carried out with remedial measures implemented whenever the recommended level is exceeded. The most recent round of surveys in the Derry area identified three schools at risk of exceeding the level .”

Radon is classified as a class A carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.