The Triangle News in 5: Researchers find elevated radon levels in Williamsburg-area homes

Plus: An attorney representing the Bigsby family filed suit against Hampton officials, Alewerks unveiled a new brew to benefit Ukraine and Busch Gardens is offering free admission to veterans.

Good morning!

While today will be cooler than yesterday, it looks like we’ll have warm weather for the rest of the workweek, with highs in the 70s and 80s, according to Meteorologist Myles Henderson of WTKR News 3.

More rain is in store, though, and unfortunately, it looks like the weather on Mother’s Day might be a dud, with cool and soggy conditions expected.

If you’re still working on your weekend plans, I published an extensive list of upcoming things to do in the area, which I’ve linked to again at the bottom of this newsletter.

As always, if you’d like to get in touch with me, simply hit “reply” to this email. I’d love to hear from you.

Now to the news.

-Christin

1. Elevated radon levels have been detected in Williamsburg-area homes by William & Mary researchers.

  • William & Mary researchers have announced the discovery of a new radon hotspot in Williamsburg. W&M geologists Jim Kaste and Professor Rick Berquist teamed up to map the hot spots in the region and tested homes for the presence of radon gas.
    • Radon comes from naturally decaying uranium and radium that exist at varying levels within soils and rock beds. It’s potentially dangerous and is believed to be the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S, according to the EPA.
  • While the Williamsburg area is color-coded as “low risk” on county-level maps developed by the U.S Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency, Kaste and Berquist found that “many buildings in the Williamsburg-York-James City Historic Triangle have serious radon gas infiltration,” according to a W&M news release.
    • “I would not want to be living with radon,” Berquist told Virginia Mercury. “It just doesn’t make sense to be breathing a radioactive gas.”
  • Radon is tasteless, odorless and colorless and is measured in “picocuries per liter.” Kaste said that the threshold for concern is four picocuries per liter. But the researchers found homes in Williamsburg, James City County, York County and New Kent County that are five and six times above that level.
    • The four picocuries per liter limit established by the EPA is intended to indicate the point at which a homeowner should take action to reduce the radon levels in their homes. The Surgeon General and EPA encourage all people to test their homes for radon.
  • A geologic feature known as the “Yorktown formation” appears to be responsible for the high radon transmissions, Berquist and Kaste said. The USGS describes the Yorktown formation as a bedrock unit consisting of “sands and clays crowded with remains of calcareous shells.”
    • The researchers noted that according to their mapping efforts, 15 percent of homes in the 23185 zip code and 39 percent of homes in the 23188 zip code have radon levels above the action limit.
    • The geologists also emphasize that local residents shouldn’t panic about the findings, but they hope their research will raise awareness about the issue and encourage more radon testing. “Public awareness of radon is nearly zero,” Kaste said.
  • Williamsburg residents can use this map to determine the radon risk level for their homes.

Two men install a radon gas treatment unit in a home. William & Mary researchers have detected significantly elevated radon levels in homes throughout the Williamsburg area. While the researchers say the findings should not cause panic, they hope to raise public awareness about the issue. (Photo by John Ewing/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

2. An attorney representing the family of missing toddler Cody Bigsby is accusing Hampton officials of ‘reckless’ behavior.

  • A new attorney for the Bigsby family, Amina Matheny-Willard, has filed a cease and desist order accusing Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck, Police Chief Mark Talbot and City Attorney Cheran Cordell Ivery of making “reckless, dangerous” statements against the child’s father, Cory Bigsby, WAVY News reports.
    • Matheny-Willard claims comments made publicly by the officials could cause the Bigsby family to become targets of increased harassment and even violence. She’s demanding Chief Talbot retract prior statements and issue a public apology to the Bigsby family.
  • Court records show Matheny-Willard intends to file suit against city officials, alleging they’ve committed obstruction of justice and possible jury tampering, according to the Virginian-Pilot.
    • Ivery, attorney for the City of Hampton, said the city will not comment on the threatened litigation or the active criminal investigation into Bigsby’s disappearance.
  • Bigsby was reported missing from his home in Hampton’s Buckroe Beach neighborhood on Jan. 31. He has not been seen since, despite intensive search efforts conducted by law enforcement, the FBI and concerned members of the general public.
  • Cory Bigsby told investigators he last saw his son around 2:00 a.m on Jan. 31 and then awoke later that morning to find the boy missing from the home. But during a Feb. 1 news conference, police said Codi’s parents and other caregivers gave conflicting information.
  • Law enforcement officials named Cory Bigsby a person of interest in the case on Feb. 2. He was arrested the following day on seven charges of felony child neglect. The charges are not directly related to Bigsby’s disappearance, but Cory was denied bond due to several prior convictions.

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#BREAKING The father of missing Hampton four-year-old Codi Bigsby has been arrested on seven counts of child neglect

3. Real estate tax relief may be on the way for residents of James City County.

  • In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the James City County Board of Supervisors agreed to lower the real estate tax rate during the upcoming fiscal year, The Virginia Gazette reports. The decision came after residents pleaded with the board to reduce the rate amid rising property assessments due to inflation.
  • The board voted to lower the tax rate from 84 cents per $100 of assessed value to 83 cents per $100 upon a motion by Supervisor Sue Sadler. The adjustment will not, however, be enough to make up for the average spike of 8.2% in assessed home values in the county.
    • The new lower rate will only amount to a savings of about $37 for the average homeowner in the county this year. On the contrary, if the board were to lower the rate to 77 cents per $100 to match last year’s tax revenue, the average homeowner in the county would save about $253.
    • The board’s decision comes as other local government entities similarly seek to lower the tax burdens on their residents. New Kent County has proposed a decrease of 11 cents per $100, and York County is considering a 1.5% decrease.
  • The county currently receives more than two-thirds of its revenue from general property taxes, including real estate taxes. The upcoming budget will emphasize funding capital needs, retaining and recruiting staff, carrying out beautification efforts, managing county growth and providing services to citizens.
    • A final vote on the budget will take place on May 10.

4. As the Peninsula faces continued workforce challenges, local leaders are searching for solutions.

  • Local leaders participated in a virtual meeting on April 26 to discuss serious local workforce concerns, including low labor participation rates and problems with underemployment, the Peninsula Chronicle reports.
  • The event, called “We’re Hiring! Workforce Development in the 757,” was hosted by The Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and included guest panelists Dr. Porter Brannon, president of Thomas Nelson Community College, Casey Roberts, executive director of New Horizons Regional Education Centers and David Gillespie, president of Virginia Technical Academy. The discussion was moderated by Shawn Avery, president and CEO of Hampton Roads Workforce Council.
  • During the discussion, Avery emphasized that Hampton Roads is dealing with unprecedented issues surrounding workforce development and talent matching. He acknowledged that some areas in the region have low unemployment rates of about 3 percent, but noted, “At the same time, we have very low labor force participation rates and working individuals who are underemployed that are working multiple part-time jobs.”
  • Brannon said the state’s community colleges are working together to develop solutions to address the need for skilled workers for unfilled jobs. He said that while the Commonwealth has a 3 percent average unemployment rate, there are also 3,000 vacancies in the state.
    • “It’s not just community colleges, but all colleges in the commonwealth that are working with the governor and local legislatures to figure out how we’re going to solve the problem of the talent gap and skills gap that we have,” Brannon said.
  • The discussion was part of ongoing efforts to help understaffed employees connect with job seekers amid continued workforce vacancies that spiked during the pandemic. In March, The Hampton Roads Workforce Council launched the “Let’s Go to Work!” campaign. The initiative is designed to address job vacancies in local high-demand industries and connect job seekers to employers.

5. Williamsburg-based Alewerks Brewing Company is launching a new beer to benefit Ukraine.

  • Alewerks has announced the launch of its new Ukrainian-Style Golden Ale. The brew will benefit Mercy Chefs, a nonprofit organization in Portsmouth that’s working to get food relief to Ukrainians. The release marks the first new brew developed as part of the company’s Teamwerks project, a label focused on making a difference locally and abroad.
  • Alewerks said $1 from every four-pack and from every glass sold at both taproom locations will be given to the effort. The company also doubled its donations on the beer’s launch day, which was April 30.
  • According to Operations Director Michael Claar, the whole Alewerks team was united in its desire to come together and show solidarity with Ukraine. Claar said the partnership with Mercy Chefs “made sense” because of the organization’s local ties.

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We are proud to introduce our Teamwerks project, a special new label dedicated to making a difference in our communitie…

Good News

Busch Gardens Williamsburg is offering free admissions for veterans.

  • Busch Gardens Williamsburg is thanking men and women who’ve served with its “Through the Waves of Honor” military salute program. The park is offering all military veterans – plus up to three guests – one complimentary visit, now through Sunday, July 10.
    • Veterans are also invited to purchase up to six additional tickets for half off the normal purchase price.
  • “We are proud to support the brave men and women who protect and serve our country,” Marc Swanson, chief executive officer of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, said in a news release. “We welcome all military families to our parks for a fun-filled day to make lasting memories together.”
  • To take advantage of the promotion, veterans must register for the offer by Sunday, May 15. To sign up, click here.

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Local Covid-19 Update

New cases: ➕ VDH reports that an additional 11,789 people in Virginia tested positive for Covid-19 last week. That’s a significant spike compared to the 6,296 cases that were reported last week. On the Peninsula, the highest average number of cases are currently being reported Hampton (32 cases per day, Newport News (26 cases per day) and James City County (19 cases per day), according to the NYT Covid-19 data tracker.

Hospitalizations and deaths: An additional 272 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in Virginia last week (up from 207 the week before), according to VDH data. 112 Covid-19-related deaths also occurred in the state last week (up from from 102 the week before), according to VDH.

Vaccination rate: 73.2% of Virginians are fully vaccinated (up from 73.1% last week).

Lowest Gas Prices Today

Gas prices have risen by an average of 8 to 10 cents across the Peninsula compared to last week. Here are the lowest prices currently being reported in the area.

All gas prices shown are per GasBuddy. To check the latest prices based on zip code, click here.

In the National News

  • The Supreme Court is reportedly poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to a draft opinion by the Court which was obtained by Politico. Wording attributed to Justice Samuel Alito states that Roe was “egregiously wrong from the start.” The opinion also says abortion is not a Constitutionally-protected right and should instead be regulated by individual states. While the news has already spurred an eruption of protests in the nation’s capital, analysts say the draft – which dates back to February – does not represent any final ruling. According to ABC News, the drafting of Supreme Court opinions “is a fluid and dynamic process,” but the leak of the document marks an unprecedented breach of Supreme Court protocol.
  • Israel is demanding an apology from Russia after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov compared Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – who is Jewish – to Adolf Hitler, Newsweek reports. Lavrov further made the false claim that “Hitler also had some Jewish blood.” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called Lavrov’s comments “unforgivable” and “a terrible historical error.” Meanwhile, a Russian state TV host raised international alarm Tuesday after warning that Moscow could turn the UK into a “radioactive wasteland” in retaliation for its support of Ukraine, the Times of London reports. The comments are the latest in a string of escalatory remarks by state media officials, who have repeatedly discussed the possibility of using nuclear weapons against the West throughout the past week.
  • New South African Covid variants have been detected in the U.S for the first time, Fortune reports. The Omicron offshoots, currently known as BA.4 and BA.5, are likely to evade protection from both vaccines and natural immunity. Lab studies show they’re more transmissible than previous Omicron variants, and the variants are responsible for a dramatic rise in cases in South Africa over the past two weeks. The news comes as research published in The Washington Post reveals that Covid-19 deaths are no longer overwhelmingly occurring among the unvaccinated. In January and February, 42% of Covid deaths occurred among the vaccinated, a shift attributed to waning immunity and higher rates of infections among older and immunocompromised individuals.

Events This Week

Miss this week’s community calendar of upcoming local events? You can find it here.

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