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June 22, 2006   
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News & Advice > Columnist Stuart Lieberman
The Radon Testing Problem
by Stuart Lieberman

Radon gas can be a very big problem. It is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that seeps from the soil into homes through cracks and foundations.

The gas is radioactive and can be very dangerous. Every year between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths are attributed to radon exposure according to the National Academy of Sciences. That's a staggering number.

While we used to attribute lung cancer to smoking alone, it's clear that the effect of radon can not be over emphasized. For this reason, purchasers of homes in radon impacted portions of the US must be sure that their home is radon free.

Radon doesn't exist everywhere in the United States. It only exists where the sub terrain produces radon gas. Sometimes one house may have elevated radon levels while the house next door will have a very low radon level.

It is commonplace in many parts of this country for radon tests to be conducted before a purchaser buys a home. Generally, this means that a canister will be placed in a home, and it will sit there for several days, allowing its media to collect air. If radon is present, a laboratory testing the canister will be able to detect it from this air sample.

A common method for reducing radon gas relies on fans used to draw the radon out from below the foundation, thereby preventing it from entering the house. In many instances, this form of remediation is effective at reducing radon below levels that are determined to be dangerous. This can cost under $2000.

Testing is key to this process. And wherever a test is required to safeguard our well-being, it is important to ensure the integrity of the test. As I see it, therein lies the problem. There is no practical way to safeguard the integrity of these tests, as far as I can determine.

Radon testing can take several days. Often, the radon test occurs while the seller of the home is occupying the home. Often, the purchaser retains a specialist to conduct the test, but the test is done prior to purchasing the home, while the seller is still there.

The seller may have to pay for a remediation system if the results are high. Which means that an unscrupulous seller may have a motivation for biasing the test procedure so as to produce an artificially low result.

If doors or windows are left open for too extensive a period of time, this can invalidate the test. If the canister is tampered with in some matter, this can invalidate the test. If fans or other devices are employed, this can also have an effect on the validity of the test.

As I see it, the dirty secret is that radon testing is, perhaps out of necessity, based on the honor system. The tests depend on the honor of the seller to insure that the results are valid. And the seller has a built in motive to produce as low of a result as he or she can.

Of course, most sellers are honest.

At this time, I really don't have had a solution to this problem. If you have reason to trust your seller and believe that they are a person of integrity, then maybe that alone is enough to satisfy you.

I suspect that if you have any real questions about the integrity of the testing, you can retest after you buy the home. Of course, after title transfers, it may be very difficult to have the seller pay for a radon remediation system. But at least you'll know whether a problem exists and at least you will have a chance to avoid becoming ill.

The point of this article has been to point out what I perceive to be is an integrity gap concerning radon testing. If those in the field have additional information which might help clarify this issue, I invite you to please email it to me so that I can share it with our readers.

Published: June 22, 2006

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    Environmental Issues & Your Home

    Stuart Lieberman, Esq. writes about environmental issues. He was a New Jersey Deputy Attorney General assigned to the State Department of Environmental Protection from 1986 - 1990. Currently he is a shareholder in the environment law firm of Lieberman & Blecher, P.C., located in Princeton, New Jersey. He can be reached at

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