GUEST COLUMN: More needs to be done about radon |
Jeff Miner
Special to the Tribune

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GUEST COLUMN: More needs to be done about radon

Kudos to Roseann Keegan and the Tahoe Daily Tribune for a well researched and reported two-part article on radon, “Fumes with a View,” July 20 and 22, 2011 in the Tahoe Daily Tribune. As a 40-year resident of South Lake Tahoe, a California and National Environmental Health Association certified radon mitigator (though not a contractor) and the owner of Radon At Tahoe, which sells electronic radon detectors on the internet, I wanted to add my comments to the article and to the radon issue at Tahoe.

1. Open air vents.

The article stated that opening sub-level air vents is one free solution to high radon levels. Sub level vents may play a part in a passive radon mitigation system, but by themselves they seldom reduce radon to acceptable levels. This is because radon is actually “sucked into the home” by the vacuum created by the Stack Effect. This is where warm air in a house rises, drawing in moisture, soil gasses, and radon from under the house. While passive systems can be built in during new construction, it takes an active radon mitigation system with a sealed radon barrier and radon fan to bring down radon readings in existing homes.

2. Real Estate Transactions

The article mentioned that California homesellers must disclose high radon levels “if they know of them.” It is not widely known that the Natural Hazard Disclosure statement which California real estate agents must provide buyers is misleading and inaccurate. The hazard report lists the Tahoe area as having only a “moderate” radon potential.  This is because of a loop-hole in the reporting requirement which allows the use of county-wide radon averages rather than using data from the recent radon reports and studies, such as the ones detailed in the article. Tahoe is a “High Risk” radon area, not “Moderate Risk.”

3. Higher local prices

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The $1,200 rates quoted in the article to mitigate a home must be from some national averages. Even the high of $2,500 may be low for this area. California currently has only eight certified radon mitigators in the entire state, none of which live here (except me, and I am not a contractor). Whoever does radon mitigation work up here has to travel here, so prices will be higher. If local contractors became certified radon mitigators it would increase competition and reduce prices. .

4. Geography

Radon is a problem, not just in South Lake Tahoe, but throughout the entire Sierra Nevada region, wherever houses are built over decomposed granite. Alpine County, Mammoth Lakes, Quincy, even Truckee, all have radon problems. Hopefully we can be a model which other mountain communities will follow in dealing with radon awareness and action.

5. Demographics

While 40 percent of houses in South Lake Tahoe have elevated radon, the percent throughout the State of California is only 1 percent. Thus, it has never been a high priority from a State perspective to address our problem. And with fewer people living in the mountains than in the larger cities, we don’t have much political clout. If this was Los Angeles or San Francisco, with 40 percent of their houses with high radon, the response from the State would likely be more aggressive. So, as far as action goes, we are going to have to depend on our local city and county governments, our forward-thinking real estate agencies, and our informed citizenry to take the lead in getting the radon out of South Lake Tahoe homes.

6. Motivation to change

Finally, the article failed to mention the number one reason we have not seen more action on radon: Lack of motivation. We have known about high radon in the Sierra Nevada for more than 22 years, since the 1989 California statewide radon survey which listed the Sierra Nevada Region as the highest radon region in the state with 11 – 45 percent of homes likely to have elevated radon. Will this article motivate homeowners to test their homes? I hope so. Will local county and city building departments add Radon Resistant New Construction (RNCC) to their building codes (like other communities have)? I hope so. Will our county Environmental Health Department pursue their “radon to-do” list such as holding meetings with contractors to teach RRNC techniques? I hope so.  Will real estate agents encourage their clients to test for radon for all real estate transactions? I hope so. Will this well-written article on our high radon motivate citizens and our government officials to take action against radon?  I hope so. Time will tell.

Jeff Miner is a California and National Environmental Health Association certified radon mitigator (though not a contractor) and the owner of Radon At Tahoe, which sells electronic radon detectors on the internet.