Elevated levels of radon were found at a Rockville elementary school where parents and teachers have raised concerns in recent weeks about potential health hazards related to the odorless, colorless radioactive gas.
Montgomery County school officials have posted results from recent retesting at Fallsmead Elementary School that showed average radon levels in 14 rooms at or above the Environmental Protection Agency’s limit of 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L).
School district officials said mitigation measures to reduce radon levels are being planned and that they don’t believe there is an immediate safety hazard. The highest recent reading at Fallsmead was 5.4 pCi/L, according to the report.
A letter reporting the findings was emailed to parents and staff on Dec. 11. “I am continuing to work with the appropriate offices in MCPS so that this situation is resolved promptly,” wrote Roni S. Silverstein, the school’s principal.
Montgomery County is the first local government in the U.S. to mandate testing for radon gas before a home can be sold. The Environmental Protection Agency says homes in the county are at particular risk for having dangerous levels of the gas.
Most single-family homes would have to be tested for radon before they are sold under a measure the county council gave unanimous approval. Maryland state law already encourages home sellers to test for it and mandates that if radon is detected, they tell the potential buyer. But testing isn't required by the state, and county councilman Craig Rice feels home buyers should know what they are getting.
"We are just asking people to test. Just to make sure that they know what may be lurking in their homes unknown that might be a silent, deadly killer," Rice says.
Radon gas is invisible and radioactive. It comes from the breakdown of uranium in rocks and soil. Humans exposed to it have greater rates of cancer and other diseases.
In Maryland, home sellers who know that their homes have elevated radon levels are required to disclose that information to prospective buyers. However, at present, home sellers have no duty to measure the radon levels in their homes.
That could change in Montgomery County if the County Council approves a controversial bill that would mandate radon testing.
Bill 31-15, sponsored by Council members Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) and Sidney Katz (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), would require home sellers to test their homes for radon and provide the results to prospective home buyers before entering a sales contract. If the bill is enacted, Montgomery County would become the only jurisdiction in the country to mandate radon testing.
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A new bill introduced Tuesday, June 16, 2015, by the Montgomery County Council would mandate that local home sellers test for the radioactive gas radon and provide buyers with the results.
The intent of the bill is to help home buyers be aware of the existence of the gas, which can cause serious illnesses and often occurs in single-family homes in the county, according to a memo about the bill provided to council members. Radon comes from the natural decay of uranium in rocks and soils and typically enters homes through cracks or other holes in the foundation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
We had some notable successes in Montgomery County Maryland in January. I chair the Energy & Air Quality Advisory Committee that advises the County Council and County Executive (CE). We worked last year to get the county to designate January as radon action month to align with EPA's designation and our CE Ike Leggett issued a proclamation and news release on the importance of testing for radon. This year we strove to do more outreach and used the EPA kids' contest poster winner to make a County-specific poster, hundreds of which were put up in county schools, libraries, government buildings and facilities. I also reached out to Hardware Stores and helped them put them up both where they had radon test kits available on the shelves and near their doors. I received very good responses from store managers when I observed that their supplies of test kits were running low, a visit two or three days later confirmed that they had re-stocked.
Poolesville is planning to install a radon and uranium removal system on three of its 11 wells.
It is the first community water system in the state to make the installation, said Jay Apperson, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Wells 7 and 10 were taken out of service as a precaution in 2007 after uranium levels were found to be in danger of exceeding the maximum allowable contaminant level.
Since that time, well 7 has exceeded the level, but well 10 has not.
The Environmental Protection Agency sets the maximum allowable contaminant level for uranium at 30 micrograms per liter. It has not established a maximum level for radon.
Poolesville’s 2010-2011 water report found the level for well 7 to be 33.5 micrograms per liter. The level at wells 9 and 10 is 12.05 micrograms per liter, but the radon and uranium removal system is being used to avoid cross-contamination on those sites.
While many people know what radon is, too many choose to ignore the serious health risks associated with the gas, according to a local radon service professional.
Mike Feldman, of Action Radon Service in Westminster, said in his nearly 30 years of experience with radon, he's found that about two of every three structures in the county he has been called to have elevated levels of radon. He said many additional homes haven't been tested.
"I think most people aren't interested or concerned with radon because they can't see it or taste it or smell it," Feldman said. "Because of that, they ignore it until it becomes a health problem when they could have fixed it a while before it got to that point."
Any home with more than 4 picocuries per liter of radon concentration is considered elevated and action should be taken to reduce radon levels.
My daughter and son-in-law have put a contract on a home up in Lancaster County, Pa.
From the inspection they got a report that the radon level in the finished basement was on average 21.5pCi/L (picoCurries per liter of air). They are moving to the area from Massachusetts and need a house. They have a 4-year-old and a 10-month-old who will be playing in the finished basement. They are wondering if it's wise to buy this house, if radon mitigation systems work very well and what type of radon mitigation system would be the best. Would the house be difficult to resell if they bought it? Are you familiar with radon and radon mitigation systems? We have never talked about radon during the years I have attended your seminars at the senior center and I don't remember seeing any articles in The Capital.