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Buyers Would Get Radon Results Under New Bill

August 07, 1994| Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Home sellers would have to tell prospective buyers if the house has been tested for radon, and give them the results, under a measure passed last week by the House of Representatives.

Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas has been linked to cancer, and backers of the legislation said home buyers should be informed about the potential threat.

"This is a health problem," said Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-Calif.), a key sponsor of the legislation. "Wouldn't most Americans want to know if there is a (radon) problem?"

The bill, approved 255-164, also would require the Environmental Protection Agency to identify areas where radon is found in high concentrations and develop mandatory certification for radon testing equipment.

The measure has yet to be taken up by the Senate.

Radon, a colorless and odorless gas, is created naturally by the decay of uranium and radium in rocks and soil, and it has been found to cause lung cancer if inhaled in substantial amounts.

Generally, radon is not a problem in the open air, but high concentrations of trapped radon gas have been found in some homes and commercial buildings after seeping through building foundations.

Although the Center for Disease Control has estimated that radon may cause between 7,000 and 30,000 additional cases of lung cancer annually, there are no federal or state laws that require people to take steps to mitigate exposure in homes and commercial buildings.

The House bill does not require mitigation or even testing either. But, critics of the bill said its disclosure requirements would essentially require sellers, in most cases, to conduct tests and correct the problem.

"It's not a voluntary program," complained Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio), who called the measure "an unwarranted burden on the homeowner." An attempt by Oxley to strip the legislation of its real estate disclosure requirements failed 193-227.

Oxley said radon-testing requirements should be handled locally because the gas "is not a problem uniformly across the country" and that there has been no evidence of a health concern at low concentrations.

Waxman said that the aim is to provide home purchasers with information about radon just as they currently must be told about the presence and potential hazard of lead paint. He said tests cost about $30 and mitigation, which usually consists of venting air from basements and foundation areas, also usually are not very costly.

The legislation requires that anyone selling or renting residential or commercial properties must provide to potential buyers a pamphlet explaining the possible hazards of radon and make known the results of any tests that have been conducted.

Failure to comply could expose the seller to a civil fine of $2,000, but no criminal penalties.

The bill also would require that:

--The EPA, within nine months, identify regions of the country that have "exceptionally" high radon levels and develop a strategy for reducing those levels.

--Radon testing devices and remediation services meet EPA performance and certification standards. EPA certification is now voluntary.

--The EPA develop building standards and techniques that can be used to reduce the radon threat.

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