Commission wants new homes to have pipes that remove dangerous radon gas

Monday, March 4, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:36 p.m. CST, Monday, March 4, 2013

COLUMBIA – The Environment and Energy Commission has written a letter of recommendation urging the Columbia City Council to require that all new homes be built with a non-mechanical system of pipes to remove dangerous radon gas from homes.

Radon is a naturally occurring, odorless and colorless radioactive gas caused by the degradation of uranium particles in the soil. Seeping through small cracks in a home’s foundation, the gas can accumulate and be inhaled. Radon is known to cause lung cancer and accounts for more than 20,000 deaths per year in the U.S., according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

A quarter of homes in Boone County are estimated to exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s radon action level of 4 picocuries per liter, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The agency used data collected by the radon-testing firm Air Chek Inc.

The Environment and Energy Commission, a citizens advisory board, wrote to the City Council that it was making the recommendation, “since it is relatively inexpensive to install a passive mitigation radon system in a new home, and it is then inexpensive to upgrade the system to an active one if the radon levels are high."

Shane Creech, the city's building and site development manager, said the Environment and Energy Commission's recommendation will go before the council once the Building Construction Codes Commission has finished its recommendations for building code updates — most likely in April or early May.

The building codes commission has looked into adopting an appendix requiring radon mitigation during a previous review, but according to its research, Boone County is in a medium threat level, Creech said.

At this point, the building codes commission opposes a radon mitigation requirement for new homes, Creech said. "If the council asks us to look at it again, then things might change."

Passive systems use a series of pipes placed under the house when the foundation is built connected to other pipes that extend through the attic. Through a natural process called the stack effect, radon gas is pulled up through the pipes and toward an exit near the roof.

If a problem with radon persists, passive systems can be upgraded to an active system by installing a fan in the attic to draw more radon out of the home.

Brandon Ninichuk of Mid-Missouri Radon Solutions said a passive system "is kind of killing two birds with one stone. Once the house is built, it can be tested. If the levels are still high, we can go in and install a fan."

The passive system cost starts at $400 to $500, Ninichuk said. The Environment and Energy Commission estimated a cost of $150 to $200 in its recommendation.

In Missouri, there are neither statewide nor local building codes in place requiring radon-resistant new construction, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website. Bordering states Kansas, Illinois, Iowa and Tennessee each have a few local jurisdictions that require radon systems in new homes. Twenty-four other states do not have these types of building codes.

“I don’t know if there is enough prevalence of the problem that it needs to be implemented in all homes,” Don Stamper, executive director of the Columbia Home Builders Association, said. “There hasn’t been an outcry from the community for a requirement like this.”

Free radon tests are available to Missouri residents through the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services website.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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