The County Council Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that requires home sellers in the county to test their homes for the carcinogenic gas radon or permit the buyer to test the home.
The bill generated a bit of controversy after a local association of real estate agents asked the council to not make the tests mandatory. The Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors (GCAAR) wrote in a letter to council members that agents already advise their clients about the risks of radon and that requiring the tests isn’t necessary. The legislation applies only to single-family homes.
Despite the opposition, the bill’s primary sponsor, Council member Craig Rice, said the tests could help save lives in the county and raise awareness about the dangers of radon.
“We are just asking people to test,” Rice said Tuesday. “Just so they know what may be lurking in their homes, that is unknown, that’s a silent, deadly killer.”
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates exposure to radon contributes to about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year and that the odorless gas tends to affect cigarette smokers in greater numbers. The gas comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil and can enter homes through cracks in the foundation, according to the EPA.
The Montgomery County measure, which goes into effect in October 2016, is the first of its kind in the country, council members said.
“Montgomery County is situated in an area that has high levels of radon gas,” Rice said. “That is why it’s so important that we passed this protection for homeowners.”
Radon tests can cost as little as $15 for a short-term test from a hardware store and as little as $25 for a long-term test kit, which measures radon levels for 90 days or more. The EPA recommends a number of testing kits on its website. High levels of radon are primarily remediated by installing a vent pipe system and fan, which pulls the gas from beneath a home and vents it to the outside, according to the EPA.
State law already requires that sellers list the presence of radon gas in their home, if they know it exists. However the law doesn’t require a seller to test for the gas.
GCAAR requested a number of amendments, most of which the council added on to the bill Tuesday. Those include exceptions for sellers who sell the property in a foreclosure sale, transfer the property as part of a deceased person’s estate or who sell the property to a buyer planning to demolish the home.
Prostitution and Tobacco Bills
The council also unanimously approved a bill that makes soliciting prostitution a violation of county law punishable by a $500 or $750 fine. The measure is designed to add additional penalties to the state criminal statute, in which offenders can receive up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000. Council members said Tuesday the bill will give officers “another tool” to fight prostitution, an issue they said is contributing to human trafficking in the county.
The council also approved an increase in the fine for distributing tobacco to a minor. The legislation will increase the fine from $500 for a first offense and $750 for a subsequent offense to $1,000 for first and subsequent offenses.