CHARLES TOWN - More than 100 homeowners in the Locust Hill subdivision in Charles Town have filed a lawsuit against Richmond American Homes, alleging that the company failed to properly equip their homes with passive radon removal systems.
The lawsuit, filed in Jefferson Circuit Court by attorney Andrew Skinner of Charles Town, is the second suit filed by Locust Hill residents against the company, which is headquartered in Denver.
In May, a separate Jefferson Circuit Court case was filed on behalf of approximately 60 residents. According to Skinner, the suit is currently in litigation and is scheduled for trial in July 2009.
Both lawsuits claim that Richmond American Homes failed to properly install passive radon removal systems, which are specifically required by local building codes, Skinner said, adding that Jefferson County is in a high radon area.
The subdivision's problem was discovered two years ago when one homeowner was attempting to sell his house. A radon specialist discovered that the pipe labeled "radon" in the basement was really for sewage from an upstairs toilet. There was no radon removal system, and a test showed that the house had more than twice the amount of radon levels that are set by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.
"We determined they tried to fool the building inspector," said Skinner, who lives in Locust Hill. "We inspected 45 homes and none of them meet building codes. The builder either put in fake systems or they installed them incorrectly."
Skinner said he asked Richmond American Homes to inspect the radon levels and radon removal systems of all the homes that the company built in West Virginia. He claims that the company refused.
Radon is a colorless and odorless radioactive gas that is created from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. The EPA estimates that more than 20,000 Americans are killed each year by lung cancer caused by radon, according to a news release about the lawsuits.
The EPA seeks to achieve the lowest technically achievable and most cost effective levels of indoor radon in new residential buildings. One method of achieving this goal is to utilize a passive radon removal system in all new residential construction.
"A passive radon removal system is intended to act as a safeguard to families, protecting them from breathing in this silent killer and preventing them from developing lung cancer," Skinner said.
According to the EPA, a properly installed passive radon removal system should reduce radon levels by half.
"That these systems were never installed, or were installed improperly, in an area like ours with high radon levels, is simply wrong," he said.
"It's all about protecting people's health," Skinner said. "Our main goals is to make sure people follow the rules and follow the law."
It was unclear who is representing Richmond American Homes, which is owned by M.D.C. Holdings Inc.