Turning Concern into Change

SPIA student raises awareness to address radon exposure for renters

In the fall of 2020, SPIA student Austin Myhre moved back to Athens after half a year of COVID lockdowns. What happened next changed the trajectory of his career in public policy.

A few months into his new lease, Austin came across an article about the prevalence of radon in northern Georgia. As a curious student interested in environmental advocacy, he delved further into the research and purchased an at-home testing kit for himself. When he discovered a radon level of three times the recommended pCi/L (picocurries per liter), he knew he needed to leave immediately. While Austin worked with UGA’s Radon Department and his property management company to remediate the issue for himself and other students, he began a new mission: revise public policy regarding radon exposure and tenants’ rights.

Austin Myhre is a rising fourth-year student studying economics, political science, and international affairs. He is pursuing a certificate in Applied Politics and has been accepted into the summer 2022 Honors in Washington program. He is originally from Lake Zurich, Illinois, a small community near Chicago. He chose to attend UGA after falling in love with the town, the football, and of course, the academic programs.

What started as a curiosity has grown into a deeply personal issue for Austin. As he started researching radon laws across states, he found they were mostly rudimentary policies that protected homeowners, if at all.

“I became seriously concerned about the greater extent to which radon endangers tenants, especially as a third of Georgia households are renters,” Myhre said.

Austin decided to turn his concern into action. Over winter break, he drafted policy memos and proposals to legislators, the lieutenant governor, and their staff hoping to open the dialogue for radon policy changes that would create wider public awareness. He modeled legislation after the Tenant Radon Protection Act, an Illinois law that better informs and protects renters about the dangers and effects of radon exposure.

In the summer of 2021, Myhre began interning for Congressman Mike Quigley, who represents the 5th district of Illinois, very close to Austin’s hometown.

“It was an awesome experience. We were given the opportunity to focus on issues that are particularly important to us,” he said. “The experience reaffirmed my dream of working in the political arena.”

Toward the end of his internship, he was able to draft a proposal along with a policy memo for the Congressman to consider regarding radon policy, tenant rights, and public awareness. Austin continues his advocacy at all levels of government to protect others against the dangers of radon exposure.

“I have SPIA to thank for honing my writing skills and policy acumen,” he said. “The professors have always been so encouraging, always willing to lend their network and connect me with the right people. It’s made me fascinated by a career in politics, and they have helped me personally in ways I wouldn’t be able to get in any other school.”

This summer, Austin will be working on the Hill for U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) through the UGA Honors in Washington Program.

Austin Myhre (far right) walks through campus with fellow SPIA students.

“I am excited to develop my understanding of the legislative process and support the Senator’s agenda. It’s an honor to serve my home state in Senator Duckworth’s office and to represent the University of Georgia, its School of Public and International Affairs, its Honors program, in D.C.”

For more information or questions about Radon testing, visit: https://extension.uga.edu/programs-services/radon-testing.html