Editorial: Government should help homeowners alleviate potential radon contamination
“Radon: It’s invisible, odorless and all around us,” contended Wednesday’s Tahoe Daily Tribune cover.
The accompanying story on Page 3 revealed why that matters: According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, radon – a radioactive carcinogen – causes 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year.
An update completed last month to radon data gathered by the state through November 2006 found more than half of our South Shore residences may contain unacceptable levels of radon.
The update contends that of the 528 South Lake Tahoe homes surveyed since the first of the year, 52 percent were found to be above the EPA standard of four picocuries per liter of air. A picocurie measures radioactivity.
Radon is a colorless, odorless, naturally occurring radioactive gas released from soils. It can accumulate to dangerous levels in homes, especially during colder months when residents typically shut windows and doors.
Experts say radon’s health risk depends on its concentration and the length of time a person is exposed to the gas.
Though not included in the California study, Nevada communities in South Lake Tahoe have also had radon issues. Data from the Nevada State Health Division collected from 1989 to 1991 found as many as 69 percent of homes in Zephyr Cove had levels of radon higher than four picocuries.
Officials at Zephyr Cove Elementary School recently spearheaded efforts to lower the radon level at the school. Radon testing results conducted last weekend at Zephyr and Kingsbury Middle School were expected back today.
So, what to do?
One option being batted around suggests amending South Lake Tahoe’s building codes. The owner of a local mail order business that offers radon detectors pitched the idea before the City Council Tuesday.
He cited international building codes that recommend sealing structure joints and floors and adding specially designed vents to keep radon from building to dangerous levels. The City Council did not discuss incorporating the codes into city ordinances at its Tuesday meeting, but would be well advised to address the issue at its next meeting, on Oct. 2.
Ginger Huber, Tahoe division manager for the El Dorado County Environmental Management Department, noted in Wednesday’s story the department expects to present information on South Shore radon to the county Board of Supervisors and the City Council by the end of October or early November.
Regardless of future radon analyses, this much is obvious: Elevated, potentially dangerous levels of the gas are not acceptable.
The city of South Lake Tahoe, El Dorado County and appropriate state agencies must be prepared to help citizens remedy radon issues. That could mean offering free house inspections, implementing a program to help pay for radon detectors, offering low-interest loans or direct service to help retrofit existing homes against the gas and restructuring building codes to prevent occurrences in the future.
At the very least, our government resources should offer a wealth of information on radon contamination and how to combat it.
Invisible, odorless and everywhere: That’s a prescription for disaster.
Let’s ensure radon is not also out of mind.