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Unhealthy levels of radon gas detected in Draper; residents have no recourse

By Mike Headrick and Linda Williams. | Posted - Nov 8th, 2012 @ 10:49pm


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DRAPER — Unhealthy levels of radon gas have been detected in a Draper development.

"It's dangerous, and I worry about my children," said Joe Schuyler, a resident in the Bellevue subdivision.

"Are we at risk for lung cancer? That's my concern now," said Bridget Metcalfe, another Bellevue resident.

Homeowners moved in without testing their homes for radon first. Metcalfe says it's all because "no one told (her) about radon here."

And no one had to — not the builder, the realtor, the city, or the state — because Utah has no laws concerning radon gas.

A KSL investigation discovered, it's an issue that has seeped through the cracks for nearly 25 years.


Major health organizations have warned about radon since the late 1980s, urging states to take action. But Utah had done nothing.

Major health organizations, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Lung Association, call radon gas a serious health threat. The Environmental Protection Agency says the gas is responsible for the most lung cancer cases, after cigarettes.

Those same groups have warned about radon since the late 1980s, urging states to take action. But Utah had done nothing, until KSL called.

"The levels came back at 8," Metcalfe said, regarding the tests she conducted in her home.

"Ours was at 6.7," Schuyler said.

The numbers may not sound high, but when it comes to radon gas they're off the chart.

"Our levels were 6.4," said Troy Mabe, another Bellevue resident.

"It was 16.9," said another neighbor, Danielle Taintor.

Any reading above 4 — or 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L) — and the EPA says homeowners should mitigate. Simply put: get the gas out of the house.

A neighborhood problem

"If I were to keep these windows closed for any amount of time, the gas would build up again," said Metcalfe, as she showed off cracks in her basement floor.

Metcalfe and her family moved to Draper's Bellevue neighborhood more than a year ago. She says she was never told about radon.

"I'm really upset — I mean, to say the least — that I've allowed my family to be in the home for, you know, a year and a half," she said, "and not knowing that this gas was present in my home."

She says she only tested for it after her neighbors, Sarah and Troy Mabe, found elevated radon levels in their own home and mitigated.

"I would certainly intervene if I saw a 5-year-old smoking a cigarette, and it's just as damaging to their little lungs for radon in their house," Sarah Mabe said.

Down the street, another neighbor, Joe Schuyler, says contractors may have to rip into his new drywall to install a radon mitigation system for his family.

"I wouldn't expose them to asbestos or natural gas or anything that's dangerous, and I want it taken care of," Schuyler said.

The homebuilder's responsibility?

He and other neighbors believe the developer, Ivory Homes, should bear more responsibility. Schuyler says they've asked for three things:

  1. Help paying for mitigation systems,
  2. A neighborhood notice about radon, and
  3. For Ivory Homes to educate new homeowners about radon and mitigation options.

Schuyler says he spoke with an Ivory representative on the phone. "They said they had no responsibility, legally, to do any of that," he said.

"They weren't sure that radon even existed, and (the representative) told me also that he thought that radon was no more dangerous than drinking from a garden hose," Schuyler continued.

"They said specifically to me that they don't want to do anything because it puts them in a place where they can't compete in the marketplace from a profitability standpoint," Schuyler added. "But from an ethical standpoint, I think it's irresponsible."

KSL called Ivory Homes and asked repeatedly for an on-camera interview. The company declined, but in a phone call with an Ivory Homes' spokesman, KSL asked about those specific points. He said he could not comment on any of them, but did send a written statement.

The statement is Ivory Homes' official position on radon, and the same statement given to homeowners. It says Ivory cannot "... be held accountable for radon levels arising in any specific home ..."

Ivory cites several reasons in a contract signed by homeowners: According to the EPA, soil tests cannot show how much radon a home will have once it's built, and radon levels vary from house to house.

To see if that was the case in the Bellevue development, KSL went door to door and gave radon tests to a dozen other homeowners in the neighborhood — two per household to ensure accurate results.

Of the 12 homes tested by KSL, 11 had high levels of radon; the highest: 21.1 pCi/L.

When KSL combined its results with those provided by 11 other homeowners, it came out to an average reading of 8.8 pCi/L per home — more than twice the amount considered unsafe by the EPA.

"We have it, they have it next door, everybody (has it)," Troy Mabe said. "It's just right down the row, and everybody else in the areas, they all have it. It's here."

The problem with regulation: there is none

Source: Utah Division of Radiation Control

KSL took its findings to Sen. John L. Valentine, the Chairman of the Senate Business and Labor Committee &38212; the committee that would tackle radon first.

When asked if the radon levels found in the Bellevue neighborhood would be a concern, Valentine said, "Yes it would. ... When you see something that's five times the EPA recommended average, that then becomes to the level of saying 'this is a problem.'"

But KSL discovered Utah has no laws to deal with that problem.: no building codes, no home inspection rules, no testing requirements for schools, no database for radon test results.

The closest thing is a code that requires radon mitigation installers and repairmen to be licensed contractors. That means, by all accounts, developer Ivory Homes is following Utah code.

"It's kind of a big issue, especially in some states," Valentine said, "and it doesn't seem like it's risen to the top here in Utah."

He says the Business and Labor Committee often relies on industry experts, like homebuilders, to bring issues such as radon to its attention. But in eight years, he says no bill has ever come up.

"Radon gas is a silent killer. You don't see it. You don't smell it. You don't feel it," Valentine said. "That's why it's a silent issue, one that we haven't really had a chance to deal with."

When asked if Utah has a responsibility to do something about radon, Valentine said, "Utah has a responsibility to build safe homes."

Since KSL first raised the issue with Valentine, he has begun looking into radon. He says his staff is reviewing laws in other states.

Four days after his interview with KSL, Valentine's Radon Gas Provisions bill request appeared on the Utah Legislature's website. It's the first step to writing a law.

As for Ivory Homes, the company sent KSL a follow-up email stating the radon issue in Bellevue had only recently come to its attention. It said Ivory was in the process of formally telling new home buyers about radon mitigation system, and it offered to introduce existing homeowners to reputable contractors.

The laws are just the first piece of the radon story.

Friday night at 10:00, we'll show you how doctors know radon gas is dangerous. You'll also meet the expert using Utah to find the final link between radon and lung cancer, and a Utah woman on a cross-country mission to prove radon gave her the deadly disease.

If you have an investigation tip please email us at investigate@ksl.com or call 801-575-HELP (4356).

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