BIDDEFORD — Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking, causing an estimated 21,000 deaths each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

To protect Maine residents from the toxic effects of this radioactive gas, the state Legislature passed a law requiring landlords of residential rental properties to test their buildings for the deadly fumes by Saturday.

But those who have waited to schedule testing may not make the deadline due to high demand for testing services.

Radon, an odorless, tasteless, invisible gas, is ubiquitous; it’s found in outdoor air and indoor air alike. Formed by the decay of naturally occurring uranium in soil and water, radon enters homes, where it can become trapped and build up, through cracks and other holes in the foundation.

There is no safe level of radon exposure, according to the EPA; although radon levels of 4 picocuries per liter of air or more are deemed especially dangerous.

Radon is of special concern in Maine, which has higher than average amounts of the poisonous gas, said Robert Stilwell, a radon specialist with the Department of Health and Human Services.

As a result of the dangers of radon in Maine, the Legislature passed legislation in 2009 that required radon testing in most residential rental units to be completed last year. Mitigation was to be required in units where high levels of radon were found.

However, in June, modifications to the statute pushed the date of the testing deadline to March 1.

In addition, the mitigation requirement was eliminated, leaving it up to a landlord’s discretion whether or not he/she wanted to pay for improvements, which can cost upwards of $1,000.

Under the law, many landlords must hire registered testers to conduct radon testing. Once the testing is completed, landlords or their representatives must supply written notification of the test results to tenants within 30 days of their receipt. The written notice must also include when the test was completed, whether mitigation was performed and notice that the tenant can conduct their own test as well as the risks associated with radon.

Buildings that have installed a mitigation system are not required to test for radon and residential buildings constructed or beginning operation after the March 1 deadline have 12 months to conduct the test.

Landlords must conduct radon testing again in 10 years, if requested by a tenant.

With the fast-approaching deadline, that state’s radon division has been inundated with calls from landlords that have waited to conduct testing, said Stilwell.

Many of the approximately 100 radon testers registered with the department have been swamped with requests, he said, so those landlords who have waited may be unable to have testing done in time.

There will be some leniency for those who have made appointments with testing companies, even if they schedule a date after the deadline, as long as they notify DHHS prior to Saturday, said Stilwell.

“It’s been delayed so many times there is confusion about what’s a real deadline,” said Seth Harkness, who owns an apartment building in Biddeford and is president of the Biddeford Landlords Association.

At the end of last week, he said he had yet to get his apartments tested, but planned to do it himself before the deadline. As a way to get testing done more quickly and/or to save money, some landlords or their representatives may conduct radon testing themselves.

“The first step,” said Nick Belair, “is determining as a landlord whether you can test your own property.”

Landlords can only test buildings that meet certain criteria. For instance, said Belair, who owns and manages several apartment buildings in Biddeford, a registered tester is required if a building has an elevator shaft.

For those who meet the requirements to test their own building, “the testing process is fairly simple,” he said, although a certain protocol must be followed.

The most time-consuming part of the process, said Belair, who conducted tests for radon at his apartment buildings, is doing research and notifying tenants before the testing, as well as filling out paperwork after it was completed.

Placing the test in an apartment unit and picking it up several days later took about 10 minutes total, he said.

For more information about all the radon testing requirements for residential rental property, visit the Maine Radon homepage at or call the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Environmental Health, Radiation Control Program toll-free at 1-800-232-0842, or 287-5675 or 287-4770.

— Staff Writer Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 324 or [email protected]

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