Gas alert at Sheffield schools

Westways Primary School
Westways Primary School

WORK is to be carried out at five Sheffield primary schools after radioactive gas was found.

Radon has been detected at Ecclesall Infants, and at Westways, Totley, Birley and Birley Spa primaries.

Up to £50,000 will be spent by Sheffield Council on work at all five schools when the children break up for half-term in seven weeks.

Today parents were told there is ‘no need for concern’.

A council spokeswoman said: “Radon is present in all buildings, including homes, and is breathed in by everyone. People have been exposed to radon as long as we have lived indoors.”

But some mums and dads at the school gates last night admitted they are worried.

Stefania Ilard, aged 31, from Crookes, whose son Alessandro is a pupil at Westways on Mona Avenue in Crookes, said: “My child is only five so he’ll be at the school a long time, so this makes me worried.”

Retired civil servant Chris Scholz’s son William, eight, is a pupil at the school. The 58-year-old, from Rivelin, said: “I know radon can have serious effects, so any parent would be concerned.”

Melany Holmes, headteacher at Westways, which has 480 children aged three to 11, said: “The levels they’ve found are extremely low, and nothing for parents to worry about. It has only been detected in a small workroom, which is unused and in the basement.”

Miriam Jackson’s son Luca, five, attends the school, which the 36-year-old said has new basement classrooms. The support worker from Crookes said: “You feel quite confined in there anyway, so more ventilation would be good.”

Claire Sandford, 37, whose children Ivor, eight, and Marlon, five, attend, added: “Obviously it sounds terrible, but if they are going to put fans in, and that reduces it, that’s a good thing.”

Monitoring equipment was installed at all the schools during the spring, and the findings were reported to headteachers as children returned to class this term.

Emma Hardy, head of Ecclesall Infants on High Storrs Road, said there will be ‘no impact’ on her school’s 181 children, aged four to seven.

“We are going to have sumps installed by specialist contractors, which will extract the gas into clean air. There is no work to be done indoors, and no impact on the children.

“We understand the gas will have been present for at least 30 years, under the ground for a long time.”

Chris Stewart, headmaster at Totley Primary on Sunnyvale Road, said: “I have been guaranteed by the council and the Health Protection Agency that there isn’t a risk to children or staff.

“The gas was only detected in one of the stock cupboards which joins on to a classroom. Extraction fans will be fitted outside, and that will ensure extra ventilation. We wouldn’t want parents to worry.”

Radon is a colourless, odourless gas formed by the radioactive decay of uranium present in all rocks and soils.

Any exposure to radiation is thought to be a risk - and radiation can increase the chance of cancer - but where radon levels are low the health risk is small.

The HPA said levels detected in Sheffield were ‘typical’ of those in schools elsewhere in the country.

Spokesman Neil McColl said: “Parts of South Yorkshire and Derbyshire are, like many other parts of the country, affected by higher than average levels of radon. The health risk arises when we are exposed to high levels over years. The HPA believes the steps planned by Sheffield Council will minimise risks.”

John Doyle, of Sheffield Council, said: “The HPA has advised us, and the headteachers, that the school routine should and will continue as normal. There is no need for concern.”

Schools throughout the country are being monitored as part of the national ‘Radon in Schools’ programme.