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GAO Says Government Can’t Assure Homeowners on Radon Tests

May 17, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Homeowners can’t be assured that all radon tests are reliable despite government attempts to verify their accuracy, congressional investigators said Wednesday.

The Environmental Protection Agency annually monitors test procedures and the accuracy of radon test kits from hundreds of testing companies and allows manufacturers to promote the fact that their kits are EPA approved.

However, officials of the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, told a House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee that the EPA review does not necessarily assure homeowners that the test information is accurate.

″The voluntary nature of the (government) program allows firms to market devices that fail the program or that have not been tested,″ said Richard Hembra of the GAO.

GAO investiations, he said, have shown that some companies sell test kits that did not meet government standards or kits that had not been reviewed by the EPA. In a few cases, companies submitted one type of device for review and put another type on the market, he said.

Various public interest groups also have complained that the EPA monitoring program for radon test kits allows companies to know beforehand when one of their test samples is being examined so special precautions can be taken.

The EPA estimates that as many as 20,000 lung-cancer deaths are attributed to indoor radon contamination, making radon the second greatest cause of lung cancer after smoking.

If radon levels in a home are found to be greater than 4 picocuries per liter of air, the EPA said levels should be reduced.

Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas emitted from the earth. The concern arises when the gas becomes trapped in closed homes and accumulates to unhealthy levels. A radon problem often can be resolved by increasing ventilation, authorities say.

A rapidly growing radon-testing industry has emerged in recent years, although the EPA does not require testing for radon.

Hembra cited a GAO study late last year that indicated many of the test kits don’t meet federal standards and said additional reviews continue to raise questions about test accuracy.

″Even with the increased number of firms demonstrating proficiency in measuring radon, EPA and the public still cannot be assured that all companies meet proficiency standards or that measurement results are accurate on a day- to-day basis,″ Hembra said.

Because EPA review is voluntary, Hembra some testing companies can continue to market kits that have not been reviewed by the EPA or failed EPA scrutiny. The agency also does not require companies to implement quality assurance programs.

Henry Habicht, the EPA’s deputy adminstrator, said the agency was expanding so-called ″blind tests″ during which companies are not aware that one of their kits is under agency scrutiny.

He said the EPA also is requiring that testing companies in the review program develop quality assurance programs, but acknowledged participation remains voluntary.

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