US Radon Policy Borders on Failure
A Radioactive Killer Is Present in 10 Million Homes in the United States
In 1988, Congress passed the Indoor Radon Abatement Act establishing a goal
of reducing radon to levels deemed safe. As a result, the USEPA created a recommended
radon guideline of 4 picocuries per liter of indoor air.
Based on the latest science available, 60 citizens in the United States will
die today from radon induced lung cancer. Tomorrow, 60 more people will die.
Each year 22,000 deaths occur because of this odorless, tasteless, silent gas.
Current scientific research indicates that even low levels of radon exposure
may contribute to significant cellular damage of lung tissue.
In 2003, the question is no longer whether radon kills, or whether radon causes
lung cancer, but how long policy makers and regulators are going to ignore the
fact that radon is killing Americans in the very homes where we believe our
families are safe?
Radon, a Class A carcinogen, is a form of radioactivity that routinely kills
day after day – yet radon remains an "un-mandated" program within
the US EPA.
Fourteen years after Congress acted, America’s national radon program
seems impotent. Recommended action levels and measurement and mitigation standards,
developed at significant cost to the US taxpayer, and once actively promoted
by the USEPA, are seemingly ignored by HUD, a key federal agency responsible
for the nation’s housing and many state lawmakers. Our nation lacks leadership
and a coherent national radon policy and, to date, efforts to resolve radon
are proving unproductive.
Last year, based on supplies sold, 75,000 homes were successfully mitigated
in the United States. Unfortunately this remediation rate is completely inadequate
to address the current level of risk and exposure.
Ten million homes in the United States have levels of radon that exceed the
radon safety standard. Meanwhile, the national building rate results in new
homes at risk being constructed at twice the rate of mitigation. Therefore,
each year the nation builds an additional 75,000 at risk homes and these homes
bring an estimated 250,000 additional citizens into the risk pool of those who
inhale radioactive by-products on a daily basis. At this rate, within 12 years,
11 million homes will exceed the safety standard, thus exposing 38 million Americans
to unacceptable doses of radon. In those same twelve years, over a quarter million
people will die from radon induced lung cancer. We have not even begun to estimate
the risk or the mortality rate due to radon exposure found in schools, institutions,
and places of work.
Christine Whitman, the current EPA Administrator, has the tools to achieve
this mission and the ability to provide the leadership to make up for the lack
of progress by previous administrations. For the solution rests on current law
and an existing system of free enterprise and privatized certification programs
for radon professionals. The solution does not rely on funding or new programs;
our government simply needs to enforce current laws under the National Environmental
Policy Act (NEPA).
NEPA requires interagency compliance with EPA policies and programs. In this
light, every federally guaranteed mortgage administered by Housing and Urban
Development (or any other federal agency) should require a radon test and mitigation
(if the test is positive) during the sale or transfer of property. This would
include FHA, Ginnie Mae and Fannie Mae loan instruments. Since the US Military
and other departments have already complied with NEPA, there should be no argument
Unfortunately, HUD has been slow to move forward on the question of radon,
and despite serious questions raised about their lack of leadership in 1991
by the Government Accounting Office they continue to drag their feet.
To alleviate the low cost of measurement and mitigation, and to stimulate both
environmental and economic activity, Congress should consider passage of tax
incentives to drive this environmental solution. States will need to enact supporting
laws and regulations to ensure that trained professionals and contractors are
certified by either the National Environmental Health Association or the National
Radon Safety Board to meet approved education, training and professional standards.
With foresight and leadership, the problem could be addressed within the next
two decades. Leadership will save lives. A lack of leadership will mean that
60 people a day will die from lung cancer not only today, but tomorrow as well,
and on and on in a painful progression until we face up to the deadly evidence
that a killer form of radiation exists in many of our nation’s homes.
Peter Hendrick, Executive Director American Association of Radon Scientists
and Technologists, Inc. 14 Pratt Road, Alstead, NH 03602 tel: 603-756-9259 firstname.lastname@example.org
* AARST data – based on key components sold by manufacturers and used
in sub-slab depressurization systems and radon resistant new construction.