The Minnesota Department of Health’s January 7, 2020 News Release claims that the MDH is concerned about reduced radon testing and mitigation rates in low-income areas. In my role as the President of the Minnesota Association of Radon Professionals I am writing to respond that while the Department of Health is paying lip-service to the goal of reducing health inequalities it is hypocritically fighting in court to defend the Radon Licensing Act, which reduces low-income communities’ access to radon services.
The Radon Licensing Act increases the cost of radon testing and mitigation, making them unaffordable to many low-income Minnesotans. The Radon Licensing Act requires radon companies to incur thousands of dollars in costs annually in licensing and educational fees for their employees, including many who perform routine tasks under the supervision of more experienced professionals. For example, under the Radon Licensing Act an assistant sent to pick up a test kit and bring it back to the office must be licensed, even though many experienced testers affirm that no special knowledge or skill is necessary for the basic task of driving to a customer home, picking up a test kit, and then driving it back to the office. This nonsensical rule poses a serious burden on testing companies who operate in rural areas – who must send licensed professionals to spend hours driving between test-sites to perform basic tasks that could easily be delegated to non-licensed assistants at a lower-cost to consumers. Furthermore, most of the expensive and time-consuming training required by the Radon Licensing Act is irrelevant to the job requirements to perform safe and effective testing and mitigation for consumers. Installing a radon mitigation system is a construction skill that is unrelated to the impractical and often irrelevant hours of classroom-study mandated by the Radon Licensing Act.
Many radon professionals are small-business owners who operate on thin margins, and will have no choice but to pass the added costs of Radon Licensing Act compliance along to their consumers. Around 40% of Americans do not have sufficient savings to pay a $400 emergency expense. Installing a mitigation system is already very expensive (typically at least $1,500), and the Radon Licensing Act makes this problem worse. For example, the Radon Licensing Act requires that a system “tag” be applied to newly installed mitigation systems. These tags do nothing to enhance consumer safety – no inspection, testing, or approval of the system is required for tag issuance. The only real function of the system tag is to force contractors to pay the Department of Health $75 every time they install a new radon mitigation system. This system tag is, in function, nothing but a tax that increases the price of a service that is already outside the financial reach of low-income Minnesotans. In fact, the Radon Licensing Act does not require that radon mitigation systems reduce radon levels to any particular level or that any inspection be performed of the systems – the legislation does nothing at all to ensure consumer safety.
Under the Radon Licensing Act a landlord with no construction experience or knowledge is permitted to endanger their tenants by performing DIY radon testing and mitigation, but licensed building contractors and remodelers are prohibited from performing this work unless they also pay the Department of Health to be licensed. This also means that the Licensing Act leaves racial minority groups and others unfairly burdened by radon exposure, because of disparities on home-ownership rates. (http://www.startribune.com/already-low-homeownership-rates-of-twin-cities-minorities-fall-further-down/441087863/) A 2017 memorandum by the Department of Health, discovered by the Association of Radon Professionals in its lawsuit contains the stunning admission that Minnesota radon laws are “structurally racist” because they focus on homeowners to the exclusion of renters (see DOH MEMO below). Yet the MDH persists in defending the Radon Licensing Act, which contains the same “structurally racist” failure to protect renters acknowledged by the Department of Health memorandum. Last summer, the Association of Radon Professionals attempted to amend its complaint to argue this disparate impact as a reason why the Act was unconstitutional, but the attempt was denied after the Department of Health argued that, as a trade-group, the Association of Radon Professionals lacks “standing” to challenge a law as unconstitutional racial discrimination.
Even if the Association of Radon Professionals lacks standing to challenge the disparate racial impact of the Radon Licensing Act, it can still raise this argument in the court of public opinion. Minnesotans should know that the Department of Health is wasting taxpayer dollars fighting to defend an unconstitutional law that has a disparate impact on minority groups and reduces low-income homeowners’ access to radon services. The Radon Licensing Act should be repealed or replaced. Licensed builders, remodelers, and other tradespeople should be permitted to install mitigation systems without being forced to spend thousands of dollars a year jumping through the Department of Health’s expensive regulatory hoops. Licensed builders who are permitted to build an entire house (including the radon mitigation system) from the ground-up should also be permitted to install radon mitigation systems in existing homes. As with other construction work, the Department of Labor and Industry should inspect mitigation systems when appropriate to ensure that contractors install them properly and defects should be addressed through the Contractor Recovery Fund. Forcing radon testing and mitigation companies to pay thousands of dollars every year to the Department of Health and incur other costs to meet the bureaucratic requirements of the Radon Licensing Act does nothing to increase consumer safety.
If the Department of Health actually wants to help low-income families access radon testing and mitigation services, it should quit fighting against the Minnesota Radon Professional Association’s effort to fix the unconstitutional and unnecessarily burdensome Radon Licensing Act. The Minnesota
President, Minnesota Association of Radon Professionals
Owner, Standard Water Control Systems, Inc.