Residents in Elgin worried about elevated radon gas levels

Some residents of Elgin Manor Apartments in Elgin said they have been worried for nearly two months about high levels of radon gas in their apartments, but the property's management said the issue is being addressed as quickly as possible.

Residents of 11 units on the first floor of the 100-unit building at 1350 Fleetwood Drive were informed that elevated levels of radon were found after testing was done in October. The nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing owns the building and wants to renovate it, which is why the testing was done, a spokesman said.

Among those affected is Cathy Hutson, who said she suffers from bronchial asthma, Crohn's disease and ongoing pneumonia, and worries that being exposed to radon is making her sicker.

"I am very concerned about it," she said.

Radon - colorless, odorless and tasteless - is a radioactive gas produced during the natural decay of uranium found in rock and soil. High levels of radon have been found in the soil in central and northern Illinois, according to a fact sheet by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, after smoking. About 21,000 people die each year from radon-induced lung cancer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Illinois law requires property buyers to be informed about indoor radon exposure and get the results of radon testing. But the law doesn't require properties to be tested or for mitigation to be conducted if there are high levels of radon.

The affordable housing group bought Elgin Manor Apartments, previously known as Burnham Manor, in May along with Burnham Schoolhouse Apartments at 260 Center St. in Elgin. Both properties are part of the federal housing choice voucher program commonly known as Section 8.

J.P. Hervis, spokesman for POAH Communities, the property management affiliate of the group, said radon testing at Elgin Manor was done as part of due diligence for the plan to renovate the property.

Eleven units showed a reading of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher, Hervis said. That's the level at which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends taking action. Hervis said he didn't have the specific readings available Thursday.

The nonprofit acted quickly in requesting proposals for remediation and received two formal bids, Hervis said.

There will be a residents' meeting today, and the plan is to start on Monday the process of figuring out how to best vent the radon, which will include inserting pipes into the floor and installing fans, Hervis said. That work will take three to four days, he said.

"The goal is to have the entire process completed ASAP. It is likely that will be in early January. The holidays and the weather will impact the completion of the remediation," Hervis said.

Elgin Department of Neighborhood Services Director Aaron Cosentino said the city was contacted by a concerned resident of Elgin Manor.

"There is no enforcement mechanism locally or at the state level for renters compelling property owners to remediate high radon levels," Cosentino said, adding he spoke with the building manager last week and was told plans to address the issue were in progress.

Resident James Trembley, who lives on the third floor, said some of the upper-level units also were tested as a precaution. Still, management should have notified all residents, not just those affected, about the problem, Trembley said.

"People on the second and third floor do go visit people on the first floor, and we do go through the first floor every day to get our mail," he said.

National nonprofit buys two affordable housing buildings in Elgin

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