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Mitigating the Radon Menace
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 January 2007

Mitigating the Radon Menace

In order to highlight the health dangers of radon and the ways these dangers can be combated, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated January as National Radon Action Month. An ASTM International standard developed by Committee E06 on Performance of Buildings, E 2121, Practice for Installing Radon Mitigation Systems in Existing Low-Rise Residential Buildings, plays a key role in the EPA’s efforts to promote radon safety this month and all year long.

Insulated radon pipe in attic.

Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that occurs naturally, both indoors and outdoors, and can be found in homes, schools, offices and any other type of building. While radon exposure has only one known health effect on human beings, it is a devastating one: radon can cause lung cancer. According to estimates, radon contributes to over 20,000 lung cancer deaths a year.

Practice E 2121 was first approved in 2001 and describes methods for reducing radon entry into existing attached and detached residential buildings three stories or less in height. EPA first cited E 2121 in 2003 as “a national consensus standard appropriate for reducing radon in homes as far as practicable below the national action level of 4 picocuries per liter in indoor air.” In 2006, EPA announced that it would no longer recommend or distribute its own radon mitigation standards and now provides a single free printed copy of E 2121 upon request from the EPA National Service Center for Environmental Publications.

It is important to note that E 2121 covers radon mitigation in existing buildings. Another ASTM standard, E 1465, covers the installation of radon mitigation systems in new low-rise residential buildings during construction.

Phil Anthes, chair of Task Group E06.41.03 on Radon (under the jurisdiction of Subcommittee E06.41 on Air Leakage and Ventilation Performance), says that the technical requirements of E 2121 are useful to all of the following:

• When requesting bids for radon mitigation, homeowners can specify that any proposed radon system must comply with E 2121.
• E 2121 provides rules for radon mitigation contractors when installing systems. This simplifies bidding since all contractors will be bidding on the same requirements.
• State radon regulators can adopt the standard to save the cost of developing and defending their own standard.
• State radon program managers who work in non-regulatory states can use the practice as guidance and for mitigation system recommendations.

State regulators who worked on the development of E 2121 and who now use it on a regular basis agree that it is the right standard for the job of radon mitigation.

“The most practical application of this standard is its current use — the standard recommended by the lead federal agency for radon, and as the de facto mitigation standard for the country,” says Robert Stilwell, radon/IAQ coordinator for the Radiation Control Program in the state of Maine. “Some states, including Maine, have adopted E 2121 as the official mitigation standard to be used by regulated radon industry members in those states. E 2121 is being directed at the proper audience: state and federal radon staff. These are the people who need to be on top of what the industry is doing and need the documentation to show what’s good, bad or ugly about the industry’s work.”

Stilwell notes that working on the development of E 2121 was his first experience with an ASTM standard under development and, based on that experience, he feels that the EPA made the right decision when it designated E 2121 as their recommended mitigation standard and that the standard will be appropriate for Maine as well.

William Bell, an ASTM member and supervisor of the radon unit of the Radiation Control Program at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health says, “The widely recognized integrity of the ASTM process serves to protect the public interest in ways that other groups cannot.”

Anthes has made presentations on E 2121, as well as E 1465, at the annual National Radon Meetings and he says that Subcommittee E06.41 is always interested in participation in its standards developing activities, particularly from those who have knowledge of construction methods used in low rise residential construction.

For further information on National Radon Action Month, click here.

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