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Indoor Environments and Green Buildings Policy Resource Center

Radon in Homes: Strengthening State Policy to Reduce Risk and Save Lives

 

An ELI Research Report

October 2012

Executive Summary

 

Radon is a radioactive gas that can accumulate indoors when it enters buildings from the soil and rock below. The health effects of breathing radon gas have been studied extensively, and the dangers are widely acknowledged–indoor exposure to radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to test for radon, and there are well-established techniques for reducing elevated radon levels.

Yet despite radon's known dangers and readily available solutions, efforts to reduce radon risk in the U.S. are losing ground. Since indoor radon became widely recognized as a public health threat in the late 1980s, many people have tested their homes and taken steps to fix radon problems, and many new homes have been constructed with radon-resistant features. But more families continue to be exposed to elevated radon levels in their homes, as the number of new homes built with elevated radon levels outpaces the installation of radon control systems in new and existing homes.

Public policy at the federal, state, and local levels can be a catalyst for making greater progress in eliminating radon hazards. This report discusses key developments over the first 25 years of state radon policy and highlights opportunities for establishing stronger state laws and regulations. States in every region of the country can benefit from adopting new policies or revising existing policies to reduce radon risk in one or more of the following areas covered in the report:

Radon Control in New Construction: States should incorporate radon requirements into statewide building codes and into program guidelines for state-financed affordable housing projects. For many states, the International Residential Code Appendix F offers a simple approach to doing so. For maximum radon reduction, however, states can move beyond a "passive" radon system approach.

Radon in Existing Homes: States should take advantage of a key opportunity to address radon in existing homes, by requiring the provision of meaningful radon hazard information and/or radon test results as part of the real estate transaction. States also should address the challenges that tenants face in fixing radon problems in their homes, by establishing minimum requirements for property owners to eliminate radon hazards in rental dwellings.

Certification of Radon Professionals: States should help ensure the effectiveness of radon services and advance radon data collection and analysis by establishing and overseeing radon certification requirements.

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Update:  Laws discussed in the report are subject to change.  Citations are provided so that readers can locate and review the most current versions of laws and regulations.  Additionally, other ELI publications provide information and analysis of state radon laws.  For example, two notable developments in 2013, following publication of this report are described in other ELI materials: Minnesota enacted a new law requiring disclosure in the real estate transaction (read about it here), while Maine significantly weakened its existing law on radon in rental dwellings (read about it here).