Indoor Radon:

Limited Federal Response To Reduce Contamination in Housing

RCED-88-103: Published: Apr 6, 1988. Publicly Released: Apr 11, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO identified: (1) the status of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) efforts to detect radon and develop methods to reduce radon contamination; (2) actions that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA), the Veterans Administration (VA), and the National Park Service (NPS), have taken to respond to potential radon hazards; and (3) the potential for federal government liability resulting from indoor radon hazards in federally insured or assisted housing.

GAO found that EPA: (1) is responsible for identifying and developing techniques to mitigate indoor radon problems; (2) plans a national assessment of existing housing for completion in 1991; (3) also plans to ask major firms to submit their radon test results to it for analysis; and (4) mitigation work on 80 of the 600 houses it had scheduled to test resulted in 70 of the houses showing significant radon reductions. GAO also found that: (1) although EPA estimates that 12 percent of the almost 85 million houses in the United States may have radon levels requiring corrective action, HUD has yet to delineate a specific policy or course of action; (2) HUD requires notification of applicants for HUD-insured mortgages of the potential for high radon levels in only three areas; (3) HUD had no requirement or policy for incorporating radon reduction techniques in its new construction projects; (4) FmHA and VA officials are unaware of any radon problems in the housing they finance or insure; (5) FmHA is developing an indoor air pollution policy to include radon, but VA has no policy for its housing, since it considers radon a state and local government issue; (6) NPS has tested nearly 3,000 of its permanent housing units and administrative buildings and plans to perform mitigation work on 352 of its buildings with elevated radon levels; and (7) the courts will not require the government to ensure that the houses it sells or insures are free of hazardous levels of radon.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although Congress has not acted on this recommendation, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee, in May 1990 radon hearings, discussed the possibility of proposing legislation that would require radon testing in all real estate transactions involving federal assistance. However, as of September 18, 1991, no legislation had been proposed.

    Matter: FmHA and VA have no specific statutory mandate to address indoor radon hazards. If Congress decides to outline indoor radon responsibilities for HUD, it may wish to consider the same action for FmHA and VA.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HUD stated in an April 1991 report to Congress that a 4-year research program is needed before a radon policy can be designed. On May 16, 1990, a House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee, in radon testing hearings, discussed the possibility of requiring testing in all federal-assisted housing. However, as of September 18, 1991, no legislation has been proposed.

    Matter: If Congress wants HUD to assume a more active role in responding to elevated radon levels in housing, it may wish to consider outlining expected HUD indoor radon responsibilities. In addition, Congress may wish to specify what activities should be conducted by HUD. Such activities could include, for example, providing prospective mortgage insurance applicants with general radon information through a disclosure notice; sending a notice to all or selected public and Indian housing authorities of the possibility of indoor radon hazards and testing procedures; selling properties only after it has reduced elevated radon levels or attached an addendum to the sales contract advising the purchasers that a radon hazard is present; incorporating and evaluating the effectiveness of radon mitigation techniques in new construction; and reporting to EPA on the effectiveness of any radon mitigation techniques used in HUD-assisted housing.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and NPS, although already sharing this information on an informal basis, have amended their interagency agreement.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior and the Administrator, EPA, should amend their interagency agreement to require that NPS information on the effectiveness of indoor radon mitigation techniques be provided to EPA for its use and consolidation with other mitigation data.

    Agency Affected: Congress

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The McKinney Act provided HUD with a specific mandate on technical amendments (P.L. 100-628), which calls for MOU with EPA spelling out their respective roles. MOU was written and signed by HUD on March 30, 1989, and by EPA in July 1989.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and the Administrator, EPA, should define their respective responsibilities and planned actions in response to their shared legislative mandate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and HUD have entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) describing cooperative efforts on this issue. HUD signed MOU in March 1989, and EPA signed it in July 1989. MOU was required by the McKinney Act (P.L. 100-628), which was enacted on November 7, 1988.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and the Administrator, EPA, should define their respective responsibilities and planned actions in response to their shared legislative mandate.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Indoor Radon Abatement Act of 1988, section 305, requires that EPA create a database, but inadequate funding by Congress resulted in EPA not completing it. Further, H.R. 5138, introduced in the 101st Congress, directs EPA to conduct radon measurement proficiency research and establish a mandatory radon measurement proficiency program. This language was subsequently enacted as law.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should provide for timely consolidation and analysis of private firms' test results on indoor radon measurements.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and NPS have amended their interagency agreement.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior and the Administrator, EPA, should amend their interagency agreement to require that NPS information on the effectiveness of indoor radon mitigation techniques be provided to EPA for its use and consolidation with other mitigation data.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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