Menendez, Bipartisan Group of Colleagues Request Meeting with HUD Secretary on Radon Dangers in Public Housing

Menendez, Bipartisan Group of Colleagues Request Meeting with HUD Secretary on Radon Dangers in Public Housing

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 21,000 Americans die from lung cancer caused by radon exposure each year


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) joined a bipartisan group of colleagues requesting a meeting with Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson to understand why the agency has failed to protect tenants living in federally subsidized housing from the cancer-causing dangers of radon and to chart a path forward to resolve this serious health hazard. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 21,000 Americans die from lung cancer caused by radon exposure each year.

Despite a federal mandate to “develop an effective departmental policy for dealing with radon contamination... to ensure that occupants of [public housing] are not exposed to hazardous levels of radon,” a recent investigative report showed that tenants of public housing across the country continue to be exposed to hazardous levels of radon.

“We write to emphasize our serious concern that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is not taking all the necessary steps to protect Americans living in federally-subsidized housing from radon contamination,” the bipartisan group of senators wrote in a letter to Secretary Carson. “Because HUD has not answered previously-asked questions regarding the presence of radon in public housing, we respectfully request a meeting with you to discuss ways we can work together to solve this issue once and for all. We are eager to work with you to protect Americans – especially the elderly, those with disabilities, and children and families – living in federally-subsidized housing from the risks posed by high radon levels, and urge you to take swift action to address this problem.”

In addition to a meeting with Secretary Carson, the Senators also asked the administration include in the President’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget a request for funds to sufficiently help public housing agencies test for and mitigate high radon levels in federally-subsidized housing.

Joining Sen. Menendez in sending the letter to Secretary Carson are Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Secretary Carson:

We write to emphasize our serious concern that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is not taking all the necessary steps to protect Americans living in federally-subsidized housing from radon contamination. As you know, HUD was Congressionally mandated in 1988 to “develop an effective departmental policy for dealing with radon contamination... to ensure that occupants of [public housing] are not exposed to hazardous levels of radon.”[1] As shown by an investigation published on November 22, 2019, however, tenants of public housing across the country continue to be exposed to hazardous levels of radon.[2] We seek to understand why HUD has not rectified this problem.

Radon, a radioactive gas that is created by natural processes underground, is the second-leading cause of fatal lung cancer in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 21,000 Americans die from lung cancer caused by radon exposure each year. Despite these indisputable facts, HUD has not proactively ensured that low-income and vulnerable tenants are safe from radon.

We are glad that HUD took a positive first step by reminding operators of public housing across the country to test for radon after the investigation’s publication.[3] However, this reminder remains an insufficient fulfillment of Congressional intent, as does HUD’s previous minute increases in radon testing requirements. One million-plus federally subsidized housing units across the nation may be contaminated by radon, and as HUD acknowledges itself, testing for radon is the only way to know whether there is a radon problem on a site.[4] Despite this, HUD neither mandates testing for radon nor enforces mitigation of high radon levels.

As you prepare the President’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget for release, we hope the administration will include a request for funds that is sufficient to test for and mitigate high radon levels in federally-subsidized housing. Sufficient mitigation funds are important to ensure that addressing radon contamination does not lead to an overall reduction in public housing stock. We are eager to work with you to protect Americans – especially the elderly, those with disabilities, and children and families – living in federally-subsidized housing from the risks posed by high radon levels, and urge you to take swift action to address this problem.

Because HUD has not answered previously-asked questions regarding the presence of radon in public housing, we respectfully request a meeting with you to discuss ways we can work together to solve this issue once and for all. We are looking forward to finally ensuring that this decades-old Congressional intent is fulfilled.

Please contact Madison Moskowitz in Senator Wyden’s office at madison_moskowitz@wyden.senate.gov, or at (202) 224-1180 or Sam Mulopulos in Senator Portman’s office at sam_mulopulos@portman.senate.gov, or at (202) 224-3353 to schedule this meeting.

Sincerely,

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