An Orono representative is hoping Maine will become the first state in the nation to require that apartment buildings be tested for potentially dangerous levels of radon.
Rep. Jim Martin, D-Orono, is sponsoring legislation that would require the owners of apartment complexes to hire a certified radon specialist to test their buildings for the presence of radon at least once every 10 years beginning in 2012.
Martin’s bill, LD 943, is headed to the House and Senate for consideration after receiving a unanimous vote of support from the Legislature’s Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that results from the breakdown of uranium and thorium in the soil or bedrock. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States after smoking, and is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Maine’s geology and soils mean that much of the state is classified by the EPA as having the highest potential for elevated radon levels. The fact that radon is odorless, colorless and tasteless makes it difficult to detect without testing, although once detected it can be easily mitigated.
Martin, who owns rental properties, said a constituent asked him to introduce the bill. But as he learned more about the health risks of radon, Martin said he began realizing the need for testing requirements.
“It really is a serious problem that we needed to find a way to address,” Martin said in a recent interview.
According to the Maine Indoor Air Quality Council, an estimated one in three Maine homes has radon concentrations above the levels considered acceptable by the federal government, compared to one in 15 homes nationally.
More than 30 percent of Maine residents live in rental housing. Martin said he believes those residents deserve additional safeguards.
“If I’m living in my own home, it’s my choice of whether I want to test” for unhealthy radon levels, Martin said. “If I’m renting, I don’t have that option. I’d have to rely on the landlord to test.”
Maine law allows individuals who are buying a home to ask for air and well water testing for radon as part of a purchase agreement. The EPA recommends taking steps to fix a home or building if airborne levels exceed 4 picocuries of radon per liter of air.
Martin said he wanted a bill that would strengthen health protections for apartment dwellers without imposing a large financial burden on the property owners but that the bill’s initial draft was far too aggressive.
The latest version, which was revised with the help of health organizations, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and apartment owners’ associations, would require testing only once every decade instead of once every five years.
If a rental unit is found to have unhealthful radon levels, the owner must notify all tenants and take mitigation steps until the radon is brought down to safe levels. Methods for lowering radon levels include relatively simple depressurization systems that use pipes and a fan to draw radon out of the soils below the basement and discharge them outside.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Maine would be the first state in the nation to address renters’ exposure to radon if Martin’s bill becomes law.
The House and Senate could take up LD 943 this week.