Researcher pushes for regulation to control exposure to cancer-causing gas

A University of Wisconsin researcher wants to make sure every new building in the state is proofed for radon, and he’s going to legislators to make it happen.

Ryan Denu is a medical student and researcher at the university, as well as the founder of the Wisconsin Radon Coalition. He said his two proposals are similar to laws found in other states. One would require all new buildings to be constructed using radon-resistant techniques, such as thicker levels of gravel under the foundation and a piping system that would help feed the deadly gas out from under the building.

The other bill requires home sellers to provide information to the buyer on radon.

“The goal, the hope with these bills is that we’re able to reduce and prevent these 500 deaths from radon-induced lung cancer every year in Wisconsin,” Denu said.

Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that comes from Uranium in the soil. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. and is especially common in the Midwest due to the geology of the region. The state has no regulation on testing for the gas, and a previous News 3 Now investigation found that most schools do not test for it.

Denu said his work with cancer patients made him realize government intervention could help prevent some of the deaths he’s seen. Before his work at the state level, he said he also helped write policy on radon for the American Medical Association.

“It’s very difficult to treat cancer, especially advanced lung cancer,” he said. “If we have ways to prevent cancer that in a lot of cases may be the best way to go.”

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, is co-sponsoring the legislation with Rep. Daniel Riemer, D-Milwaukee.

“This is long overdue,” a spokesperson for Taylor said in a statement. “According to the EPA, 80% of US homes haven’t been tested for radon, and we see more than 20,000 deaths annually.”

The legislation is praised by people who work close to the dangerous gas.

Lindsay Mefford co-runs Madison Radon Testing, LLC with her husband. Their company tests area homes for radon levels, and she said there is no real predictor for which houses will have high levels.

“It doesn’t matter, brand new construction, older house, everyone should get a radon test done,” Mefford said.

She said about half the homes she tests come back with elevated levels, and her family lived in a home with high levels for years without knowing. She doesn’t want others going through the risk.

“That would just help people right away instead of finding out after living in your house for many years that you have high radon,” she said. “It’s a problem.”