Radon Testing in Federal Buildings Needs Improvement and HUD's Radon Policy Needs Strengthening

T-RCED-91-48: Published: May 8, 1991. Publicly Released: May 8, 1991.

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GAO discussed: (1) the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) radon-testing policy for HUD-assisted housing; and (2) federal agencies' efforts to reduce radon hazards at federal facilities. GAO noted that: (1) 22 agencies reported the results of radon testing at their facilities to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including 10 that submitted partial results and were continuing to test buildings and some that were taking mitigation actions to protect federal workers; (2) some agencies did not use EPA-approved radon detectors, had significant detector losses, and did not follow EPA recommended testing procedures; (3) the agencies did not have procedures for retesting, since they did not anticipate the possibility of lost detectors, although it could affect the overall reliability of radon studies; and (4) HUD concluded that it needed to conduct a 4-year research program before it could design a cost-effective policy for radon testing and mitigation, since it lacked information on testing radon in multifamily housing.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: HUD has received the final guidance document on radon measurement and the proposed outline for preparing a mitigation guidebook. However, at this time, there are no plans to redesign HUD's policy to provide for testing and mitigation programs for HUD-assisted housing.

    Recommendation: HUD should redesign its policy to provide for testing and mitigation programs for HUD-assisted housing, as required by the McKinney amendments. Initially, the programs could be directed toward those buildings with only a few floors, since EPA believes testing and mitigating procedures and techniques are well understood for such buildings.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As part of the HUD/EPA interagency agreement, EPA completed testing in approximately 200 HUD-owned buildings. EPA selected 3 buildings to mitigate. Out of the 200 buildings tested, EPA did not find any high-rise buildings with radon levels above 4 picoCuries per liter of air, the level at which EPA advises that followup testing and mitigation action be taken. Additional testing was not conducted to determine radon distribution in high-rise buildings. Although EPA and HUD have not jointly assessed the need for additional research and guidance, EPA believes that the testing guidance and other information developed under the interagency agreement provide much of the information necessary for HUD to implement a radon program in HUD-owned and -assisted multi-family housing. No further action is planned.

    Recommendation: Upon completion of the ongoing HUD/EPA research project that addresses radon distribution in four high-rise buildings, HUD and EPA should jointly assess the need for additional research and the need to revise the guidance for testing and mitigating in multifamily high-rise buildings in particular.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA entered into an interagency agreement in September 1992 to assist HUD in implementing a radon program for testing and mitigating in HUD-owned and -assisted multi-family buildings. A final guidance document on radon measurement in multi-family buildings was given to HUD on February 9, 1995. EPA also provided a proposed outline to assist HUD in preparing a mitigation guidebook for HUD managers, property owners, and radon diagnostic and mitigation services. However, due to funding issues, EPA was unable to complete the mitigation guidance document. EPA plans no further action on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To assist HUD, EPA should begin immediately to develop specific guidance outlining testing and mitigation procedures for the multifamily buildings in the HUD inventory.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to EPA, it will provide information on how to prevent losses, but it does not intend to provide guidance on assessing the significance of losses or action to take in event of losses. EPA believes this is an individual agency responsibility.

    Recommendation: In keeping with the legislative requirement to provide technical guidance to the agencies, EPA should develop guidance to resolve the issue of lost detectors.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA stated it would provide technical assistance if asked by the agencies to address the testing procedures. EPA provided technical advice in preparation for initial testing. However, EPA said information provided with test results was not sufficient to assess adequacy of actual procedures. EPA plans no further action.

    Recommendation: EPA should work with all federal agencies to assess the adequacy of their testing procedures and advise the agencies on the aspects of their testing programs that need to be improved.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA entered into an interagency agreement in September 1992 to assist HUD in implementing a radon program for testing and mitigation in HUD-owned and assisted multifamily buildings. EPA completed a pilot-testing program to gather additional information for use in development of testing and mitigation guidance. EPA worked with HUD to develop an educational brochure about radon for residents of HUD-owned and assisted multifamily housing to facilitate radon testing. A final guidance document on radon measurement in multifamily buildings was given to HUD on February 9, 1995. However, due to funding issues, HUD was unable to provide additional funding support for completion of a mitigation guidance document.

    Recommendation: Upon completion of the ongoing HUD/EPA research project that addresses radon distribution in four high-rise buildings, HUD and EPA should jointly assess the need for additional research and the need to revise the guidance for testing and mitigating in multifamily high-rise buildings in particular.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

 

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