December, 2002
Skeptic
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



American Radon Policy Coalition Seeks ASHI Support

DALLAS JONES

Hundreds of FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac approved home appraisers are routinely certifying that properties are free of hazardous materials and radioactive
substances – without the performance of an indoor radon test. Accordingly, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (or the entity that assumes HUD’s responsibilities including the mortgage underwriter and the appraiser) could be held liable in the event it is later determined the property contains dangerous levels of indoor radon gas.

To be more specific, 24CFR Sec.50.3(i)1 (Code of Federal Regulations) “Environmental Policy” states, “It is HUD policy that all property proposed for use in HUD programs be free of hazardous materials, contamination, toxic chemicals and gasses, and radioactive substances, where a hazard could affect the health and safety of occupants or conflict with the intended utilization of the property.”

The newly formed American Radon Policy Coalition (ARPC) is working to convince the HUD Secretary that compliance with the Code of Federal Regulations would require a radon test (and remediation if deemed necessary) to qualify for a government guaranteed or insured mortgage. Coalition leadership is currently reviewing the potential for possible legal action.

Since 1993, the USEPA has recommended all homebuyers test for indoor radon gas because radon is a Class “A” carcinogen estimated to cause more than 15,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. annually. Yet, HUD’s radon policy continues to be out of step with other federal agencies and possibly the law.

HUD has responded to the Coalition’s initial overtures by stating while they recognize radon as a carcinogen, homes to be financed by a federally guaranteed mortgage are categorically exempt from the performance of an environmental review, unless there is reason to suspect contamination.

Coalition members argue that EPA’s Map of Radon Zones would at the very least, provide adequate suspicion of radon contamination in Zones 1 and 2, even though EPA recommends testing not be limited to just the areas of higher potential.  

Of particular interest are the appraisal report forms and compliance principles used everyday by HUD certified appraisers. For example, the Fannie Mae Underwriter Quantitative Analysis Appraisal Report very clearly asks, “Are there any apparent adverse environmental conditions (hazardous wastes, toxic substances, etc.) present in the improvements, on the site, or in the immediate vicinity of the subject property?  FHA guidelines for property analysis require the appraiser to determine if the property is “free of all known hazards and adverse conditions that may affect the health and safety of the occupant.

A recent 2000 document published by HUD’s Office of Native American Policy states that even if the property is categorically excluded from an Environmental Assessment, compliance requires efforts to identify any hazardous substances “including the potential for inhabitants to inhale the contaminants (e.g., vapors, gases, radioactive gases (radon)…).”

Obviously, HUD compliance with these requirements would put some integrity in the Fed’s professed intentions of lowering the risk of radon induced lung cancer. Also the majority of primary market mortgage originators will follow HUD’s lead. Considering the home sale turnover rate, in 20-30 years, almost every home will have been tested for radon and fixed if needed.  

I urge ASHI Members to write their Congressman and request HUD accountability in this matter. Sample letters are available on AARST’s Web site at www.aarst.org. Also use ASHI’s Legislative Action Center for continued dialogue.