Radon Sends Ripples through Water Systems
On the verge of an expected EPA rule to control radon in drinking water, a
familiar home health threat is taking on new implications and costs for
homeowners and communities. Known since the 1980s as a naturally occurring
source of indoor air pollution, radon is now being targeted for controls
under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Control measures will increase municipal
water technology and maintenance costs, to the tune of $30 million in Tucson,
Arizona, for example.
Radon is a radioactive gas and the second leading cause of lung cancer in the
U.S., according to U.S. EPA. The EPA estimates that radon is responsible for
some 20,000 lung cancer deaths a year in the United States. The risks are
most acute for cigarette smokers.
In certain areas across the country, radon found in the soil underneath homes
results in indoor air emissions at unhealthy levels. That is why EPA
recommends that home sellers and homebuyers get a radon test prior to
completing a home sales transaction, and to make sure the testing firm is
familiar with EPA protocols. The EPA now recommends limiting the annual
average of radon in indoor air to 4 picocuries per liter. A picocurie is a
measure of radioactive emissions.
Congress in 1996 mandated new rules on radon in drinking water, to get at
radon released by faucets and showers into indoor air. EPA is expected to
issue the rules next month, and that's causing a stir in many communities
including Tucson, Arizona. Among other things, the new rule would require
municipal water systems to achieve the 4 picocurie limit in indoor air.
But during a meeting of the Tucson Town Council, Tucson Water officials told
the council that the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and other
state agencies are attacking the proposed indoor air standard as unworkable.
The only alternative is to shut down wells that don't comply with the
300-picocurie water limit in the rule. In addition, the water utility said
the city would spend up to $30 million in capital funds for equipment needed
to eradicate radon, and $1 million a year to maintain operations.
Where's the money coming from? The homeowner, of course. In most
communities, the utility would have to raise user rates to cover the capital
and maintenance costs associated with the new rule.
Sources used to create this article include writer Maureen O'Connell and The
Arizona Daily Star.