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News from the week of January 7, 2004

Home-testing recommended for radon gas

Local residents should test their homes for dangerous levels of radon, said Jeff Moberg health educator for Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, and Pipestone Counties Public Health Services (LLMP PHS).

Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas that accumulates indoors after seeping up through porous soils. It is present at elevated levels in about 35 percent of Minnesota homes, compared to seven percent of homes nationally. In Southwest Minnesota, 69% of homes tested are above the recommended levels. Major studies have indicated that exposure to elevated levels of radon increases the risk of lung cancer in people, according to Moberg.

Radon gas enters homes through gaps and cracks in the foundation and insulation, through pipes, drains, walls, sump pump holes, or other openings.

"High levels of indoor radon can be deadly, but this health risk can be prevented. Homes can be easily tested for under 20 dollars, and inexpensive repairs range from $500 to $2,500 can fix the problem," Moberg said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends testing home that having living space below the third floor.

“The science on radon has been formidable over the years, but never before have we had such overwhelming scientific consensus and robust data to support earlier findings about the harmful effects of radon exposure,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dianne Mandernach.

A National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report in February 1998 confirmed that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. A more recent EPA report released in June 2003 states that radon causes 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year. “However,” said Dale Dorschner, MDH indoor air unit supervisor, “because you can't see or smell radon, people tend to minimize the health effects and ignore the possibility that it might exist at elevated levels in their homes.”

"The radon levels in our four counties are in the highest risk category of 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) in 40% of all homes tested," Moberg said. As of April 23, 1999 the actual numbers in our four counties are higher: 69% or 144 of the 209 tested homes have come back above the recommended levels. High radon levels have been found every county and every type of home. Homeowners may have different levels throughout their home. The test should be run on the lowest living floor of the home, although basements without a bedroom, family room, or living space are not priority areas for testing.

Moberg notes that it is not uncommon for homeowners to have different levels than their neighbors. Radon levels depend on the soils and geological structures surrounding the home.

Radon test kits are available at city and county health departments, hardware stores, home improvement stores, other retail outlets, or directly from a laboratory. Many are priced under $20. Information on how to purchase a radon detector is available from Minnesota Department of Health and their .

Moberg recently completed a training workshop for radon reduction and indoor air quality issues. The National Environmental Health Association and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sponsored the training.

Lincoln, Lyon, Murray and Pipestone Public Health Services has Radon Test Kits available for voluntary radon testing of area homes. Cost is $5.33 including taxes. The kits can be picked up at public health offices in Hendricks, Marshall, Slayton, and Pipestone. Order forms for the kits can picked up at county public health offices in Jackson, Worthington, Redwood Falls, Olivia, and Luverne.

'03 precipitation is 6" below normal

2003 precipitation at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center near Lamberton was six inches below historic averages.

Overall, 20.28 inches of precipitation was recorded at the Lamberton center during 2003. That compares with the historic average of 26.45 inches of annual precipitation at Lamberton.

Precipitation totals in April, May, July, and August were all significantly below historic averages. The only months in 2003 to have above-average precipitation were June and September. A total of 5.35 inches of rain fell in June, 1.61 inches above the historic average. In September, 3.59 inches of precipitation was recorded at SWROC, .8 inch above the historic average.

The dry year kicked off in January, when only .23 of an inch of precipitation, in the form of five inches of snow, fell at SWROC. The historic average in January is .66.

February precipitation totals came close to the historic average of .57, when .54 of an inch of precipitation was recorded. Total snow for the month was five inches, two inches of which fell on Feb. 3, and three inches of which fell on Feb. 15.

March precipitation was again well below historic average. Though 10.5 inches of snow fell, the .9 of an inch of precipitation it amounted to more than half an inch less than normal.

April showers didn't amount to much; only 1.92 inches of precipitation fell during the month, compared to a historic average of 2.85 inches.

May totals came close to historic averages. A total of 2.92 inches fell during the month, only .29 of an inch below average.

While June was the wettest month of the year, the spigot shut off in July, when total precipitation amounted to only 1.62 inches. The historic average in July is 3.98 inches.

Dry conditions continued into August. A total of 1.34 inches of precipitation was recorded at SWROC, 1.75 inches below historic average.

Wet weather returned briefly in September, only to disappear again in October. The rainfall total in October was only .64 of an inch; that's 1.39 below historic average.

Dry weather continued into November, when only .65 of an inch of precipitation was recorded at SWROC. Nine inches of snow fell during the month.

In December, 15.5 inches of snow helped push precipitation levels for the month near the historic average of .64 of an inch. A total of .58 of an inch of precipitation fell during the month.

Twisters host dance meet

High-stepping competition Saturday

Dance teams from 11 schools are expected for a competition in Tracy Saturday, Jan. 10.

Competition begins at noon in the Tracy Area High School gym. The TAHS Twister dance line is hosting the meet.

The Twisters, coached by Vicki Vandendriessche, will compete in both the jazz funk and precision high-kick categories. Varsity jazz funk competition begins at noon. Varsity high-kick competition begins at 1:45 p.m., followed by an awards program. The public is invited. Admission is charged.

Varsity teams, in addition to Tracy, are: Canby, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, Lakeview, Minneota, Worthington, Jackson County Central, Lac qui Parle, and Montevideo. A junior high competition for teams from Yellow Medicine East, Watertown-Mayer, and Lac qui Parle is set for 1 p.m.

A panel of judges evaluates each team's performance according to established criteria. Execution, team-precision, energy, and the difficulty of the routine are among the criteria. Team members choreograph their own routines.

Twister dance line members are: Jackie Vroman, Allison Rasmussen, Amanda Rasmussen, Cheri Willard, Chantalle Cooreman, Megan Meyer, Samantha Meyer, Kylie Meyer, Emily Rayman, Elizabeth Rayman, Christina Peterson, Brittany Wood, Laura Peterson, Tina Gervais, Katie Gervais, Mollie Goltz, Tina McIntire, Sondra Hohlfeld, Annie Byrne, Celia Brockway.

The meet marks the beginning of the Twisters performance season, which will culminate in the Section 2A dance competition in Montevideo. Twister performances this fall were all non-competitive.

Pool litigation discussed, no answers on repairs

The Tracy City Council met Monday night to discuss pending litigation involving the Tracy Aquatic Center. Following the advice of the city's legal counsel, the meeting was closed to the public.

City Administrator Audrey Koopman had said earlier that she expected a report from consultants to be presented at the Jan. 5 meeting about options and cost estimates to repair the aquatic center, and that the meeting would be public. However, she said Tuesday that only the pool litigation was discussed. The city administrator said that she hopes that pool repair options will be presented to the council soon, perhaps later this month. However, she does not expect the aquatic center repairs to be on the city council's Jan 12 agenda.

Tests conducted at the aquatic center late this summer and early fall uncovered evidence of significant structural defects in the two-year-old aquatic center's concrete pool shells. The city is expected to file a lawsuit in an effort to collect damages that occurred due to faulty pool construction and/or defects in the pool design. The city is also involved in a lawsuit, filed by pool contractor Olympic Pools, involving money that was withheld by the city from the original construction contract. That lawsuit is scheduled to come to trial early this spring.

The $1.8 million Tracy Aquatic Center opened in July of 2001, two months after a substantial completion deadline specified in the construction contracts. Prior to the 2003 swim season, a significant number of cracks were noticed in the main pool basin. Large volumes of water leaked from the pool this summer, and tests were ordered on the pool this fall. This city has spent over $85,000 testing the pool to date. The tests involved removing the pool Diamondbrite finish coat with jack hammers, and removing concrete core samples. The core samples turned up evidence of holes and foreign objects in the pool shell. The aquatic center is unusable in its present condition.

Tracy cheerleaders add to Capital One bowl show

Four Tracy Area High School students returned from Orlando, Florida, Friday, after participating in a half-time dance performance at the Capital One Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day.

Jonna Grunden, Shanel Hansen, Casie Miller, and Chantalle Cooreman were four of the approximately 1,100 dancers who were assembled for the half-time show.

"They were tired and a little sunburned when they got back, but they had a good time," said Pam Cooreman, Chantalle's mother.

Segments of the half-time show were televised nationally by ABC. Purdue played Georgia in the Citrus Bowl.

Besides practicing for their routine, the girls enjoyed several group events, including trips to Disney World and Universal Studios, and a pool party.

The girls became eligible for the program through tryouts at a cheerleading camp that they attended in Iowa last summer. Each had to pay for their trip expenses.

Tracy considers administrative fine ordinance

Someday in the not-to-distant future, motorists ticketed for speeding in Tracy will have the option of paying an administrative fine to the city, rather than paying the fine to the Lyon County court system.

A new ordinance being considered by the City of Tracy would establish a series of administrative fines for a variety of minor offenses, including petty misdemeanor traffic violations. A public hearing on the new ordinance is scheduled in Tracy City Council Chambers Monday, Jan. 12, beginning at 6:40 p.m.

City council members have discussed several potential advantages to the administrative fine. One involves the ability to generate additional revenue at a time when state aid to municipalities is being reduced. It has also been suggested that the city-administered fines would be more convenient and less costly for the public, compared with the court system. Discussion has also suggested that moderate fines ($75 for a city administrative speeding fine, compared to a minimum of over $100 through the court system) will make is more likely that Tracy policemen will issue tickets instead of warnings).

The proposed ordinance grants citizens the option of contesting citations in court. Law enforcement officers would continue to be able to bring more serious charges to bring alleged offenders into the court system.

If the administrative-fine language is approved by council members Monday, the ordinance becomes effective 30 days after its publication. A complete text of the proposed ordinance is available at Tracy City Hall.