If you look closely at the roofs of apartments at Sunshine Court, you’ll notice some white pipes. They might not look like part of a system to prevent cancer, but they are.
Those pipes are part of the system to protect the residents from the dangers of radon gas.
Those pipes also represent relief for Renee Williams, executive director of David City Housing Authority. Her job is making sure residents have the best conditions Sunshine Court can provide.
“It’s a big relief knowing that it is something that we’ve been able to do, to eliminate any health issues,” Williams said. “There are a lot of things we can’t control but this is the one we could. There is so much out there that causes cancer.”
A year ago DCHA’s board, which governs Sunshine Court, decided to take a step forward and hired Thrasher, mitigation specialists, to complete radon testing and mitigation.
While there are no federal standards in place for radon, it is strongly recommended that living areas with levels above 4 picocuries per liter should be mitigated. Those between 2 and 4 picocuries are high on the list for mitigation, Williams said.
Radon, an odorless and tasteless gas, is a naturally occurring byproduct of radium and appears sporadically depending on soil composition below a home’s concrete. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, it is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the nation.
Williams, who divides her time between Sunshine Court and a housing complex in Gresham, said that the Gresham facility was mandated to undergo testing and mitigation, so it made sense for DCHA to go ahead before it was mandated here.
Other housing authorities in Nebraska were recently required to undergo testing when they completed their environmental assessment, which is part of the process of applying for capital fund grants. The 55-unit complex was built in 1964 and is home to many low-income residents.
“Sunshine Court’s environmental assessment will be due in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, so we decided to be proactive and get it done,” Williams said.
In March, 58 areas of Sunshine Court were tested, including 44 apartments, the shop area, office, board room and the community room. Of those, 26 showed radon levels above 4 picocuries per liter, and 44 were above 2 picocuries. Readings ranged from low level of - .5 picocuries, up to very high levels, 25 picocuries. Two areas tested at levels lower than the detector’s lowest limit.
In late September, Thrasher, the firm that conducted the tests, received the bid and mitigation started on the affected 44 areas.
The method was Active Soil Depressurization.
“What that means is a hole is drilled in the concrete slab, then fitted with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe, which was taken through the ceilings and roofs,” Williams said. A radon fan was used to draw the air from below the slab to the outdoors.
Most passersby won’t even notice the extra “chimneys” on the roofs, Williams said. “We didn’t want a system that would be ugly or poorly planned and devalue the property.”
In November, Thrasher retested the mitigated areas, and all tested below 1 picocurie and 21 areas tested lower than the detector’s lowest limit of measurement.
The cost of the process was $11,000 for testing and $66,000 for the mitigation systems, which were installed last fall.
Williams added that radon is considered dangerous if a person spends eight hours a day in a high-radon living area. At Sunshine Court, some residents are not out of their apartments for long periods of time, and a few residents have lived in the apartments for 20 years.
While radon testing is not required by the State of Nebraska, it is the only way to know a home’s radon levels. High radon levels have been found in all states, but now Sunshine Court is considered to be radon free.