Boulder County Office Spearheads Radon Mitigation Efforts Across Colorado, Pushing Construction Regs
Efforts to ramp up local governments’ building regulations across Colorado to prevent the lung cancer-causing radon gas from infiltrating homes are being led by a two-woman Boulder County program.
Susan Martino and Patty Dooley-Strappelli are urging the state’s municipalities and counties to adopt requirements for home builders to install radon mitigation systems during new construction, fueled by another three years of funding from a $900,000 Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment grant for their Radon Aware Initiative program started in 2015.
That was the same year a Wellington woman, Johanna Carpine, died of radon-related lung cancer after a two-year battle with the disease, a Boulder County web page points out.
Her death was not isolated: About 21,000 people are killed annually by lung cancer caused by exposure to radon, according to estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency. Radon is an odorless, invisible gas commonly found in Colorado’s soil.
State assistance available
A separate state program started this year has helped residents of 37 low-income households install radon mitigation systems in their homes, including four in Boulder County, according to Colorado Radon Program coordinator Chrystine Kelley.
Nearly $200,000 for that initiative’s first year was made available through a 2016 Colorado bill co-sponsored by soon-to-be House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder.
But before it was passed, Dooley-Strappelli advocated for it to be strengthened to do exactly what she and Martino are trying to get cities and counties to do through their grant-funded initiative: make installing radon mitigation systems during new construction a legal requirement.
Doing so for new single-family homes is achieved through adopting what it is called Appendix F of the International Residential Code, an optional provision that, as of November, 41 Colorado municipalities and counties — including, Longmont, Boulder and unincorporated Boulder County — have implemented into local building codes, according to the state.
“Forty-one is better than none. It’s been happening more and more, with towns jumping on board when they hear of their neighboring communities doing it,” Kelley said.
Few multi-family home mandates
While there has been some success in requiring new single-family homes to have radon mitigation systems — which consist of ventilation, sometimes in conjunction with fans, to let gas seeping into homes escape into the air — similar regulations for multi-family homes remain largely off the books across Colorado.
“What we would like to see is the same type of (rule) for multi-family housing,” Martino said.
Fort Collins is the only municipality in the state mandating radon mitigation systems be installed during new construction of multi-family homes, according to the state health department website.
All of Colorado is in the EPA’s most serious Zone 1 designation for radon levels, meaning there is a “probable indoor radon average” of 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter of air), with 53 percent of Boulder County homes testing above that at an average of 6.19 pCi/L, according to state data.
“I think that some builders are concerned about cost and liability, that if they put this in, they’re admitting (radon) is a problem,” Martino said. “But it’s a value-adding feature. It means that you’ve taken an interest in the health of the people that are going to occupy that building.”
With their program’s start-up, Martino and Dooley-Strappelli took a step up from simple outreach and education regarding radon mitigation — which they led prior to receiving the state grant funding — to trying to advise policymakers on the benefits of adopting such building requirements.
In their first three years from 2015 to this year, they focused on forging relationships with Front Range leaders to spark talks in town halls about radon mitigation regulations, and now for their second three years they are widening their focus to include the entire state, Martino said.
Shoddy work common
Mandating radon mitigation systems be installed by contractors certified by organizations such as the National Radon Proficiency Program also is on their wish list.
Gregory Bickle, owner of Longmont-based radon and mold mitigation business American Scientific and Environmental Consulting, estimates that 15 to 20 percent of his jobs involve fixing a mitigation system that was improperly installed.
“You can honestly get into this business, go to school and get your tools for under $5,000. It’s not hard to get into this. There’s nobody out there policing it,” Bickle said. ”... I compete against a lot of these people who aren’t doing what they’re supposed to.”
January is National Radon Action Month, when municipalities will issue proclamations urging residents to test their homes for radon. Tests can be bought for around $15, or one per resident can be obtained for free through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment .
Installing a radon mitigation system on an already-built home normally costs between $800 and $2,500, officials said, and they recommend re-testing your home after it is installed to ensure it works properly, and every two years after that.
Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, email@example.com and twitter.com/samlounz .