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Montgomery County Bill May Require Radon Testing

June 20, 2016

Maryland’s largest county(Montgomery), numbering over one million residents, may soon become the first county in the nation to require radon testing for home sellers.

Montgomery County Bill 31-15, if passed, would make radon testing mandatory for homeowners putting their houses up for sale, requiring that test information be disclosed to buyers before they commit to purchase. Currently, sellers are not required to test for radon, however, if the home has been tested in the past, the results must be disclosed.

Radon is a colorless, tasteless gas that occurs naturally in soils, rocks, and underground water. Known to cause cancer, it is estimated that 1 in 15 homes in the U.S. have elevated levels of radon gas. Seeping in from underground through foundations, basements, porous construction materials, and pipe, electrical, or utility openings, the gas enters the lowest level of the home, posing a threat to those living in the space.

While present in low levels just about everywhere on the planet, high levels of radon gas contained indoors for long periods of time can cause lung cancer, even in those who have never smoked. An EPA study of miners exposed to radon used test data to arrive at estimates indicating 21,000 deaths are caused annually from exposure to radon.

The bill would require home sellers to purchase a test kit through a state-certified company, and make the test results known to prospective buyers before they commit to a sales contract. If tests indicate, the seller must request a written estimate detailing remediation costs to reduce levels to acceptable levels. The test must be performed within a year of the date of the sales contract.

The bill will help buyers in making their decisions about specific properties, revealing high levels of the gas that need addressing. It does not mandate remediation, nor does it state any penalties for failure to provide test results. It also does not address homes that are not for sale, condominiums, apartments, or cooperative living structures that may be exposing residents to dangerous levels of the gas.

Realtors say they would prefer a bill requiring educational disclosure that leaves the decision about testing and remediation up to the buyer and seller to negotiate in the contract. The bill goes to the City Council for a vote on Tuesday, Nov. 3.