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Published on February 4th, 2009 | by Linda Kincaid, MPH, CIH

9

California Real Estate Agents Provide Misinformation about Radon

February 4th, 2009 by  


Radon in Lungs

Disclosure reports use statistical sleight of hand to mislead consumers.

A Silicon Valley real estate agent told her clients, “There is no radon in California.  You don’t need to worry about it.”  The couple purchased a home in Sunnyvale, CA, which has some of the higher radon levels in Santa Clara County.  Based on their agent’s advice, they chose not to test for radon. 

Another home in Sunnyvale had 29 picoCuries/liter (pCi/L), more than 8 times the EPA action level (4 pCi/L).  A home in Los Gatos had 56 pCi/L, which is 14 times the action level.

Based on radon test data, about half of California’s 58 counties are in EPA Radon Zone 2, averaging 2-4 piCi/L of indoor radon.  Santa Clara County, where I live, has an average radon concentration of 2.9 pCi/L, and about one in twelve radon tests finds radon above 4 pCi/L.  Ventura and Santa Barbara counties are in EPA Radon Zone 1, indicating countywide averages above 4 pCi/L. 

Many California real estate agents avoid honest discussions of radon, and many agents provide disclosure reports that are misleading.  The First American Natural Hazard Disclosure Report and the JCP Report both contain the following statement:  

All of California’s 58 counties have a predicted median annual-average living-area concentration of radon below 2.0 pCi/L (picocuries per liter of indoor air) — which is well below the EPA’s guideline level of 4 pCi/L and equivalent to the lowest hazard zone (Zone 3) on the 1993 EPA Map of Radon Zones.

 A “median” is not the same as an average.  These terms are not interchangeable.  The EPA Map of Radon Zones is based on actual radon test data.  EPA assigns counties to Radon Zones according to average radon found in the relevant county. 

A mathematical model from Lawrence Berkeley National Labs (LBNL) calculated the “predicted median” values in the disclosure reports.  The LBNL model helps public health officials locate regions of the country that could have extremely high radon concentrations. 

It is not appropriate to assign a “predicted median” to an EPA Radon Zone.  Neither of the companies mentioned above would discuss their rationale for the statement quoted.

Real estate agents regularly use market statistics that require some understanding of “median” and average.  Agents have the expertise to recognize the two measures are not the same, and they could select reports that provide correct information.

Many agents in California choose not to address the issue of radon.  I recently explained the prevalence of radon in California to a Silicon Valley agent.  She replied, “Now I’ll do my best to forget.” 

The only way to know the radon concentration in a home is to test.  A radon test done by a certified Radon Measurement Specialist in California will cost several hundred dollars.  However, the state of California provides radon test kits to residents for only $5.  A radon test done by a homeowner is just as reliable as a test done by a professional.

Richard Calhoun, a Silicon Valley broker, suggests that buyers avoid the high cost of professional testing by conducting their own radon tests during escrow.  The buyer would then repeat the test shortly after occupying the property, confirming the seller did not tamper with the test kit.

Photo courtesy of EPA.

Related stories:

 Granite Counters: Uranium Ore In Disguise?

Worries About Granite Lead to California Homes with Radon

Hostile Granite Showrooms Refuse to Discuss Radiation


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  • Your radon level could be zero and your neighbor’s radon levels could be off the charts. You never know until a radon test is administered. Don’t fear radon testing, radon mitigation systems are affordable and effectively reduce radon levels.

  • Your radon level could be zero and your neighbor’s radon levels could be off the charts. You never know until a radon test is administered. Don’t fear radon testing, radon mitigation systems are affordable and effectively reduce radon levels.

  • Sharon

    The US government has a website with information on exceptable radon levels http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/citguide.html

    Also you can get information on qualified testers at
    http://www.epa.gov/radon/radontest.html

    Inexpensive testin kits are usually sold at hardware or home improvement stores.

  • Sharon

    The US government has a website with information on exceptable radon levels http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/citguide.html

    Also you can get information on qualified testers at
    http://www.epa.gov/radon/radontest.html

    Inexpensive testin kits are usually sold at hardware or home improvement stores.

  • This is truly disturbing. Radon can be very, very harmful and the fact that people are being lied to about it makes me very nervous. Make sure you get a home inspection from a trusted institution before you move into any house, just to ensure that you are moving into a safe environment.

  • This is truly disturbing. Radon can be very, very harmful and the fact that people are being lied to about it makes me very nervous. Make sure you get a home inspection from a trusted institution before you move into any house, just to ensure that you are moving into a safe environment.

  • manno

    I thought this was a great article until I read: “A radon test done by a homeowner is just as reliable as a test done by a professional.” As an environmental scientist with a masters degree, and one is licensed by a state, sometimes I wonder why I even bother.

    Yeah, sure, any doofus with a twenty can go down to Home Depot and buy a radon test kit. But does he or she know WHERE to place it? WHEN not to place it? HOW to place it? etc, etc, etc?? The instructions with these kits give the bare minimums and those are NOT enough.

    Yes, this all might sound like a piece of cake but the licenses in most states require 2-3 days of study and a damn hard test that typically even includes some quantum physics. So yeah, go ahead and do it yourself. And while your at it, next time your tooth aches, forget the dentist, go out in the garage and grab a pair of pliers.

  • I am happy you thought this was a great article and hope you do continue to do so despite your disagreement over the radon home kits. I do agree that expertise can never override the inexperienced. But not everyone can afford a professional. I think the writer is trying to give encouragement to those that need reassurance about home radon kits. I don’t have personal experience with them so I can’t say.. But as someone who loves home improvement. I would rather hire painters to paint my home but I can’t really afford to hire them. So I have to resort to painting on my own. Of course, painting is not the same thing as radon testing.

    I don’t think the writer is trying to disparage the radon professionals and Environmental scientists and how hard they have to work to achieve their expertise. But for those who are DIYers and for those whose only option is a Radon test kit; this could be an option for them. Regardless, we appreciate your comment and your pov on this matter.

  • Most of real estate agents uses market statistic but gives misinformation about radon. This blog is very informative! Thank you for posting it in here. Real estate home inspection is very important for now.

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