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Experts Say E.P.A.'s Radon Standard Is Too Weak

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Washington--The level of radon radiation that the Environmental Protection Agency proposes as the trigger for remedial action is too high, a group of environmental experts told a House subcommittee this month.

At a hearing on a proposed omnibus radon bill that would include a $1.5-million provision for testing and abatement in schools, specialists told members of the Subcommittee on Health and the Environment that the epa's recommended "action level" for radon--4 picocuries per liter of air--is inadequate to protect public health.

At least one person in 100 will get lung cancer as a result of exposure at that level, they said. In contrast, the epa risk levels for most other contaminants are between one death in 10,000 and one fatality per million.

At the hearing, Representative James J. Florio, Democrat of New Jersey, introduced legislation that would require the epa to establish a firm standard for permissible radon exposure based on health considerations. Congressional staffers say the provision may be added to the omnibus bill, which was approved in September by the Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Hazardous Materials.

A similarly comprehensive bill on radon was approved by the Senate this past summer.

Prolonged exposure to radon--an odorless, colorless, and naturally occurring gas--is believed to increase the risk of lung cancer. Radon seeps into buildings through cracks and holes in their foundations. (See Education Week, March 4, 1987.)

Although high levels of radon are more frequently found in homes than in school buildings, some scientists believe that children may be more sensitive to radon exposure than adults.

In a recent New Jersey study, 21 of 41 schools tested had radon levels above the epa's current standard.--ef

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