According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and a serious problem in Utah. One in three homes in the state test above the EPA action level of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/l) of air, with homes testing at an average of 5.3 pCi/l. Utah’s radon program provides the following services:
- Radon awareness through public outreach and education
- Low-cost test kits to Utah residents
- Indoor radon surveys in target areas
- Individualized assistance to homeowners and public agencies
- Public-school testing
- Real-estate training on testing, disclosure, and mitigation
DEQ offers an online link through its website to access and order $9.00 test kits, provides information on test results by zip code (132 KB), sponsors a radon poster contest in the schools, works with home builders and organizations such as Habitat for Humanity to use radon-resistant construction in their projects, and provides free continuing education (CEU) courses on radon for real estate professionals throughout Utah. Partnerships between the radon program and local health districts, hospitals, Utah Department of Health, Utah Builder’s Association, and community outreach programs have increased public and professional awareness of the risk of indoor radon exposure in the state.
Radon Training for Real Estate Professionals
DEQ’s Radon Program Coordinator is licensed through the Utah Department of Commerce, Division of Real Estate, to teach a continuing education (CE) course for realtors called “Radon for the Real-Estate Professional.” The biggest initial motivation for realtors to learn about radon is the inclusion of radon on the Buyer Due Diligence Checklist. But DEQ’s radon coordinator found that after realtors attended the class, they began to see how their knowledge about radon could help protect their clients — and their families — from its adverse health effects. Realtors have been enthusiastic about the class and offered positive feedback about the information presented.
Estimates show that every realtor talks to at least fifty potential clients every year, which means that many thousands of people in Utah learn about radon through real-estate transactions each year. These client conversations increase public awareness of the dangers of indoor radon, encourage homeowners to test their residences, and arm them with information to mitigate the problem.
Success Story: Radon Testing on the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation
Native Americans and tribal populations suffer disproportionately from poor indoor air quality. So when Eleanor Divver, DEQ’s Radon Program Coordinator, was asked to participate in environmental testing at the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation (CTGR) in May 2018, she knew it would be a great opportunity to raise awareness among tribal members about the adverse health effects of radon gas. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, and exposure to the odorless gas inside homes is a serious issue for many tribal and rural communities.
The Department of Pediatrics at the University of Utah and the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational Health, University of Utah, were the lead organizations for the testing program. Huntsman Cancer also participated. DEQ was asked to oversee the indoor-radon testing component.
Radon isn’t the only contaminant that poses a health risk to tribal members living at CTGR. Tribal communities and many other communities in rural Utah face environmental challenges posed by a desert landscape that contains naturally high metal concentrations, geologic formations that emit radon, and limited infrastructure.
Residents participating in the voluntary environmental testing program had their homes and yards tested for specific pollutants:
- Particulate-matter levels, both indoor and outdoor, can be high because most families at the CTGR heat their homes with wood stoves.
- Soils can contain heavy metals like lead and arsenic.
- Lead, carbon monoxide, and radon can be present at high levels in the ambient air.
Radon Testing Process
Eleanor met with the Tribal Board several times and asked if there were residents who were willing to do the entire suite of environmental tests. Seventeen residents volunteered, but only 11 were available on the day she tested.
DEQ tested these 11 homes as well as the Tribal Headquarters for radon. Eleanor discovered that five of the 11 homes had elevated radon levels and verified those results using DEQ’s continuous radon monitors, which measure radon in real-time. The homes that were re-tested continued to show elevated levels.
Eleanor reached out to a certified radon mitigator and asked if his company, Radovent, would be willing to install two mitigation systems, and he said yes. She then met with the CTGR Building Code Commission/Board to explain what a mitigation system is, how it works, etc. At the end of the meeting, the Board gave the go-ahead, and on August 9, 2018, Radovent installed mitigation systems pro-bono for two residents on the CTGR.
DEQ hopes to train two to three CTGR tribe members to install these mitigation systems. This training will empower tribe members to take charge of indoor radon testing and mitigation in their community.
The CTGR Building Code Commission/Board has asked DEQ to test all 350 residences on the reservation. DEQ will be working with the Tribe and EPA Regions 9 and 10 to ensure this happens. The agency hopes to arrange for the installation of two more free mitigation systems along with additional training on the systems. The Director of the Building Code group is requesting funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help with the installation of mitigation systems.
Collaboration and Outreach
Residents were initially concerned when they discovered radon levels in some of the homes were five times higher than the EPA action level of 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L). Eleanor was glad she was there to talk to them and address their concerns. An instructor at a training told residents they needed to move out of their homes until the levels were brought down, which was not true. She was able to reassure tribal members by providing them with accurate information on actual rather than perceived risks.
Building relationships with tribal members is key to the continued success of the environmental testing program at CTGR. While it took some time to explain why DEQ was there and why a mitigation company would install two systems for free, Eleanor was eventually able to gain the community’s trust and build partnerships to support continued testing. Rural and tribal communities face special challenges, and DEQ believes this program is an important first step in reaching out to people living in remote areas of Utah.