DENVER (CBS4) – After CBS4 Investigates found high levels of radon in some Denver public housing, the Denver Housing Authority is installing radon mitigation systems in the Columbine Homes public housing complex to protect residents. The DHA plans to test and mitigate as needed every unit in its social housing portfolio over the next two years.
Maria Chacón, a retired waitress, is one of the first residents to receive a dimming system at her Columbine Homes unit, located in the Valverde neighborhood of Denver, off Alameda Avenue, just east of west of Interstate 25. It was installed in February.
“It’s going to be a benefit for the whole community,” Chacón said in an interview with CBS4 Investigates translated from Spanish.
What is Radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas that naturally rises through the ground, but when trapped in your home it can be inhaled in very concentrated levels and can cause lung cancer.
The EPA says radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers in the United States, killing about 21,000 people a year. Yet CBS4 Investigates found that there is no law requiring public housing to undergo radon testing or mitigation.
CBS4 investigates 2020 radon test results generating action
In January 2020, CBS4 Investigates hired a nationally certified radon testing company – Area 5280 Home Inspections – to install sensors in five units in two different public housing communities: Columbine Homes and Westridge Homes. The tests were carried out in February 2020.
Both results in the Columbine Homes complex were double the EPA’s indoor radon safe limit, which is 4 picocuries per liter. The two results were 8.4 pCi/l and 7.8 pCi/l.
In the Westridge Homes complex, one result was just below the EPA limit, at 3.2 pCi/L. Two other results were well below the limit, at 1.0 pCi/L and 0.7 pCi/L.
Now, two years later, the DHA says it has completed its own testing of all 200 units in Columbine homes and is working to install a radon mitigation system in every unit by June.
“When the reports came out on some of Columbine Homes’ preliminary tests, we thought it was important to continue with those tests and then come up with a plan for operating procedures and then installing devices at the radon,” said DHA Executive Director David Nisivoccia. CBS4’s Kati Weis in an interview on Monday. “Every time someone brings attention to an issue or detail that the agency is working on and trying to address, it gives us the push to make sure we follow through. So I really appreciate that.
DHA tells CBS4 that in its comprehensive testing of Columbine Homes, 75 apartments were tested above the EPA’s 4 pCi/L action level limit and nine tested within 0.3 pCi/l of the limit, for a total of 84 units equal to or greater than the EPA limit. action level.
The highest result found was 14.1 pCi/l, and the lowest was less than 0.3 pCi/l.
DHA says 116 apartments were tested below the safe limit.
Nisivoccia says that while not all units exceed the EPA’s safety limit, it was important for DHA to go ahead and install mitigation systems in each of them.
“In the units tested below, for me, we should always take the initiative to ensure the safety and health of people in general, and you know, the dynamics change in terms of contact with the earth and the how the earth changes over time,” Nisivoccia explained. “So it’s better to be careful and proactive and put those test units and those mitigating devices, even if someone hasn’t tested in their unit above the levels, because that could change.”
As the pandemic has slowed action efforts, Nisivoccia says DHA has also been testing and cleaning community spaces.
Once all mitigation systems are installed in every unit in the Columbine Homes complex, Nisivoccia says the DHA will begin testing another complex and installing mitigation systems if the results are high enough. He says federal grant money will pay for these testing and mitigation efforts.
“This is a historic time for people in our industry,” Nisivoccia said. “I have never seen resources provided to organizations like ours in my 61 years on this planet provided to us now.”
Nisivoccia says DHA is still working to determine which property will be addressed next.
“We’re going to go through this process of identifying priority properties… our plan is to complete all of this, hopefully within 18 months to two years, because that’s how important we think this issue is” , said Nisivoccia.
He says that after all the mitigation devices are installed, follow-up testing will be done to ensure the systems are working properly.
Nisivoccia also says community meetings will be held at each property to update residents on testing and mitigation efforts. He says informational materials will also be given to residents when the tests are carried out in their units.
“Not only will we give them the information about the device and the reasons behind it, but we will also provide it in multiple languages, knowing that we have a rather diverse resident base,” Nisivoccia said. “So we’ll make sure we provide the information in the language they understand and then we’ll answer any questions they have, because we don’t want them to feel uncomfortable or not know why we’re going down. this way, when it comes to the safety and security of residents.
Chacón remains skeptical, saying she hasn’t received much information about the radon tests or mitigation installation that have been done in her unit.
“They sent a note from the accommodation that they were going to put a little radon packet here, and they didn’t give me too many explanations, and then in three days they picked it up,” she recalls.
Either way, she hopes these mitigation efforts will make a difference for her and her neighbors.
“Most of the people who live here, they are sick with one thing or another…we are people with problems, we don’t have good paying jobs, we are people with few resources”, Chacon said. “This issue is like a ticking time bomb, it’s a slow death, but it kills… (but this investigation) makes me more optimistic for everyone’s health.”